Chapter 4 of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction’s “Hard Lessons” review of the American effort to rebuild Iraq is a short one covering the continued problems of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs (ORHA). As it entered Kuwait before the U.S. invasion it was still ill prepared for what lay ahead. It had staffing and contracting troubles, interference from the administration, and was unaware of other organizations planning for post-war Iraq.
On March 16, 2003 the ORHA left the U.S. for Kuwait. The organization had only been in existence for six weeks and had a staff of 167. When they arrived they found that they could not stay with the military so they had to find their own accommodations. The company KBR set them up at the Kuwait Hilton, while the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) eventually moved to the Radisson. This placed the four groups in charge of Iraq, the ground forces command based in Qatar, the U.S. military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) in Tampa, Florida, the military’s post-war group Joint Task Force 4 (JTF 4) at a military camp in Kuwait, and OHRA in two hotels in Kuwait, at five difference locations in three different countries. OHRA also had no secure communication, and was thus cut out of the military-White House loop. That symbolized their relationship to the rest of the American actors that would take part in the invasion of Iraq, and their different locations was like the disjointed planning that had taken place as none of these organizations had coordinated with each other.
Right before they were to leave, Jay Garner, the retired general in charge of OHRA, was given a call by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld saying that he objected to some of Garner’s staff. The OHRA had created a plan for a U.S. advisor to be placed in each of Iraq’s ministries to help run them until a new Iraqi government was formed. Most of these spots were to be filled by members of the State Department, which Rumsfeld disagreed with. He told Garner that he was going to personally name new advisors. Garner objected, and then decided to ignore the secretary. After he arrived in Kuwait, Garner was then told that the White House was going to name all of the advisors. Eventually Secretary of State Colin Powell wrote to Rumsfeld telling him that State was only trying to help, allowing Garner to maintain all of his original ministry officials. This was but one example of the interference Garner experienced from his superiors, which held up post-war planning.
Another problem that OHRA had was that the Army had not authorized them to sign any new contracts. They only had $146 million to not only pay for staffing, and supplies, but for contracts, to pay for the Iraqi security forces, and other duties. This meant that as the war started and eventually ended, OHRA was still working on finding the appropriate businesses to do reconstruction. A contract for Bechtel to rebuild Iraqi infrastructure for example, wasn’t signed until April 17, 2003, and their personnel didn’t arrive until May. The staff of OHRA was also growing exponentially to about 2,500 as they arrived in Baghdad in mid-April. A contracting officer said that they were so overwhelmed by the group’s growth and duties that they were completely reacting to situations, and had no planning for what they were doing.
ORHA still had little coordination or knowledge of the other post-war plans. Right before the invasion started on March 20, Garner’s deputy went to meet with CENTCOM commanders and found out about their post-invasion ideas. Angered Garner called for all the different post-war groups to meet at the Hilton on March 27, seven days into the war. The conference proved futile as no unified plan emerged.
For their part, CENTCOM came up with a military to Iraqi transition program. Following the combat forces Governorate Support Teams (GSTs) would contact local Iraqi officials and help them with keeping up administration. The GSTs would then hand over responsibility to OHRA, who would then create an Iraqi interim government that would allow the Americans to depart. Garner planned on forming this new administration by holding a meeting of top Iraqi leaders as happened in Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion there. This closely followed USAID’s plans to decentralize power in Iraq down to the provinces, districts, and local municipalities to break the hold Saddam had imposed on the country. This eventually created an unintended long-term problem for Iraq however as it is still arguing over who has authority, the central government in Baghdad or the provinces, and over how federalism is to be implemented.
CENTCOM’s plan fit in nicely with the White House’s narrative that the Americans would be liberators not occupiers, and that reconstruction could be done on the cheap. Officials were telling the American media and public that they would only be in Iraq for a short period, and that reconstruction would not cost the U.S. much. On April 23 for example, a USAID official said that rebuilding Iraq would only cost $1.7 billion because Iraqi oil and foreign donors would pay the rest. That same month National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice said that OHRA was not going to govern Iraq after the invasion, but rather transition authority to Iraqis. Both of these statements would prove completely wrong.
When the invasion was finished OHRA staff watched on TV as Iraqis went into the streets and started looting. The ministries that OHRA had planned to take over to keep the country going were being burned and torn apart. The American staff became disheartened, and Garner began to have grave doubts about his mission and what he could accomplish. It was a foreshadowing of the long-term chaos that would overtake both Iraq and the U.S. reconstruction effort for the next several years.
Other Chapters from “Hard Lessons”
Part I Chapter 1 – Planning for Postwar Iraq September 2001 to May 2003
Chapter 2 – The Agencies Engage
Chapter 3 – The Department of Defense Takes Charge
Special Inspector General For Iraq Reconstruction, “Hard Lessons,” 1/22/09