Uncivil Military

By

The Coalition Provisional Authority's (CPA) office in Tikrit
occupies an opulent guesthouse on the vast grounds of Saddam
Hussein's former palace complex, high on a hilltop overlooking the
Tigris River. On a rainy morning last week, Mark Kennon, the CPA's
provincial coordinator in Tikrit, sat behind his desktop computer,
flanked by a pair of marble columns, planning another day of
nation-building. An open-faced, friendly man in his late thirties,
Kennon served as the U.S. consul-general in Shenyang, a city in
northeastern China, before being seconded to the Department of
Defense for a six-month tour of duty in Iraq. Now he spends his
time traveling across the province, spreading the gospel of
democracy as the CPA prepares to hand over authority to the Iraqis
on July 1. In recent days, his half-dozen employees have overseen
the selection by the provincial council of a new governor, held
town meetings, conducted "democracy dialogues," and opened women's
and human rights centers. The CPA has worked on some infrastructure
projects as well--the "mission board" behind his desk indicated two
staff inspection tours of Tikrit hospitals that day. But Kennon
said the majority of the local CPA staff's energy was devoted to
what he termed "information production"--spreading the word about
freedom and about the November 15 agreement between the CPA and the
Iraqi Governing Council to elect a new Iraqi government through
regional caucuses.But the CPA's information campaign had apparently not reached
battalion headquarters on the other side of the palace complex. I
caught up with a platoon of troops there from the 4th Infantry
Division's Task Force Ironhorse as they were preparing to go out on
patrol. Some had been involved in the December 13 capture of Saddam
Hussein, and they had the battle-hardened look of men who face
daily attacks. As they slung their M-4 rifles over their shoulders,
I asked them what they thought about the CPA. "Certified public
accountants, right?" asked one private, provoking laughter from his
comrades. "I've seen them here a total of once," a second soldier
said. "I've got no idea who they are or what they do." "The way I
see it, I do my job and they do theirs-- whatever their job is,"
said a third. The public affairs officer who was accompanying me, a
reservist captain who has traveled with different units in Iraq for
the past year, said he'd heard similar opinions everywhere he
traveled with the military. "It's like, we're the ones doing,
they're the ones talking," he said. "The U.S. Marines down south
didn't like them, either. [The CPA is] bureaucratic, slow-moving.
There's a natural antipathy."

The feeling is widespread. Eleven months after the U.S.-led invasion
of Iraq, it's hard to find a soldier in the field with a kind word
to say about the CPA, the 2,500-employee, civilian-run
administration based in Baghdad and headed by L. Paul Bremer. The
antipathy in part reflects the cultural and institutional divide
between soldiers and civilians. "The military is set up to
communicate, organize well, make trains run on time. Civilians are
set up to think about things," says Dave Oliver, a retired admiral
who served as a top CPA official from June until November. Partly,
it's a result of inevitable tensions between troops in the
field--facing bullets and roadside bombs--and CPA administrators
stuck in the main office in Baghdad. "Guys closest to the action
always complain about the home base," says Dan Senor, chief
spokesman for the CPA. "I do the same thing about Washington, and I
don't think it's unique to this situation." But the disconnect is
also based on real and widespread problems-- problems that have
slowed reconstruction and intensified resentment toward the U.S.
occupation.

The grumbling comes from the top brass as well as ordinary grunts.
Civilian chief Bremer and his military counterpart, Lieutenant
General Ricardo Sanchez, who have offices near each other in
Saddam's former Republican Palace in Baghdad, have sparred over
many aspects of the occupation--especially Bremer's decision last
May to disband the Iraqi military, a move soldiers blame for
fueling the insurgency that has led to the deaths of over 260
American soldiers. The troops regard their civilian counterparts in
large part as coddled, well- paid amateurs. Unlike the soldiers,
who remain in country for a year, many civilian staffers get
rotated out after 90-day tours, barely giving them time to get
settled. CPA officials are paid up to $600 per day, while soldiers
are lucky to earn $600 per week. The Green Zone, the heavily
fortified, five-square- kilometer area where most CPA staffers live
and work in Baghdad, has become a symbol of the CPA's isolation
from the people it is supposed to be helping. And, while the CPA
has been expanding across the country--it now has offices in all 18
provinces and more than 1,500 employees in the field--most American
soldiers I talked to told me they barely feel the CPA's presence.
As a result, the military has been doing work that the CPA should
be overseeing--equipping the Iraqi police, fixing sewers, handing
out generators to keep electricity flowing, and more.

On July 1, Bremer will formally cede his authority to the Iraqi
government, and the CPA's functions will be taken over by a U.S.
Embassy, whose size and mission remains to be determined. But the
legacy of the CPA's inertia, indecisiveness, and, at times,
incompetence is likely to linger long after it goes out of
existence and will place further burdens on the military in the
chaotic post-handover period. Because of turf disputes between the
State Department, which is close to the CPA, and the Pentagon,
$18.6 billion in contracts that were approved by Congress last
October will not be signed until March or April; the first major
reconstruction projects won't begin until summer. "You're not going
to see any results on the ground until the late summer at the
earliest," says Mike Gfoeller, a Hilla-based CPA regional
coordinator for six central and southern Iraqi provinces. All this
means soldiers will have to keep picking up the slack, handling
reconstruction on the ground. Meanwhile, most political experts
here believe that the months after the handover of sovereignty to
Iraqis are likely to bring more terrorist attacks and civil
strife--fighting that also will require the attention of thinly
stretched American forces. Indeed, CPA inertia, caused by
bureaucratic infighting and a lack of experience among key CPA
officials, has forced the military to play precisely the role it is
trying to avoid--that of an omnipresent, occupying force.

Military impatience with the civilians dates to the early days of
the postwar period. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld insisted on
controlling both sides of the occupation, and he gave neither the
resources to do a competent job. The Pentagon filled the ranks of
the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (orha),
the CPA's predecessor, with Defense officials and retired generals,
most of whom lacked hands-on experience in nation- building. Of the
orha team's 200 key officials, only a dozen had worked in war zones
like East Timor or Kosovo. The Defense Department also
underestimated the number of troops needed for the postwar
situation. When looting began after the capture of Baghdad, the 3rd
Infantry Division, which had fewer than 20,000 troops to safeguard
a city of five million, was overwhelmed. American troops and
civilians turned on each other, and the bickering led to paralysis.

The military repeatedly thumbed its nose at the civilians in those
days. Orha staffers would often arrange to meet Iraqi ministry
employees to hand out emergency $20 payments--a standard subsidy
for government workers until a new salary scale could be devised.
The military, which was trying to combat looting and didn't deem
such missions a priority, would cancel the convoys to escort the
staffers, leading to hours of arguments. Rumsfeld and President
Bush finally responded to the chaos by sacking orha head Jay Garner
and replacing him with Bremer.

When Bremer took over in May 2003, the military's impatience with
the CPA continued. These frustrations reflected a dangerous
difference in philosophy: Troops in the field were preoccupied with
quickly fixing local problems, while the CPA in Baghdad favored a
longer-term, broader but sometimes ineffective approach. Last
summer, Major General David H. Petraeus, commander of the 101st
Airborne Division based in Mosul, began paying members of the newly
established Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (icdc) $100 per month, nearly
three times the wage the CPA in Baghdad had established for civil
servants--a move that helped pacify many of these Iraqis. CPA
administrators, however, griped that Petraeus's approach was
hurting the pay scale, sparking complaints among government workers
in other regions who were earning $40 per month. Petraeus responded
that he had an obligation to keep his men happy. Oliver, whom
Bremer had put in charge of Iraq's finances, opened banks and
stocked them full of dinars, but American soldiers were constantly
withdrawing large sums without CPA authorization and using the
money for quick-fix projects. Anxious to avoid runs on the fragile
banking system, Oliver complained to the generals. "I would hear
from the soldiers, 'What the hell is the CPA doing? These guys are
worthless,'" Oliver told me. "And the CPA people thought the
soldiers were crazy."

Petraeus became a lightning rod in the dispute between the soldiers
and the civilians. A charismatic figure with a Ph.D. from Princeton
and a flair for self-promotion (he put an Iraqi TV crew on his
payroll to document his achievements), the general prided himself
on his ability to bypass the bureaucracy in Baghdad. As the CPA
dithered, he organized elections in May for a local governing
council and was one of the first generals to take advantage of the
Commanders Emergency Relief Fund, spending $36 million in cash
confiscated from Saddam's palaces. Petraeus earmarked the money for
thousands of projects, including the reconstruction of Mosul
University, irrigation schemes, and an oil-for-electricity deal
with Turkey that brought Mosul round- the-clock power while Baghdad
was still suffering from blackouts. After Bremer disbanded the
Iraqi army, Petraeus set up a monthly stipend for 25,000 ex-
soldiers, keeping their frustration from boiling over into
violence.

Petraeus liked to needle the CPA. After reopening a war-idled cement
plant, Petraeus told members of Congress that it would have cost
$15 million if the job had been assigned to U.S. Agency for
International Development contractor Bechtel; Iraqi contractors, he
said, had restored production for just $80,000. When I flew around
Mosul with him last November, Petraeus boasted about how his troops
had created a homegrown security force while CPA administrators
were still arguing about how to proceed. "Bremer and [CPA Ministry
of Defense Adviser Walter] Slocombe were a little bit taken aback
by what we'd accomplished here," he told me. According to CPA
sources, Bremer and his aides grew mildly annoyed with Petraeus
(who returned to Fort Campbell with the 101st Airborne earlier this
month), viewing him as a grandstander who enjoyed showing up the
civilians in Baghdad.

Stung by criticism, the CPA is now struggling to project a can-do
image and work more closely with the military. The CPA has opened
offices in every province and is supposed to cooperate with local
military commanders; Kennon, the CPA man in Tikrit, told me he
meets almost daily with 4th Infantry Division Commander Major
General Ray Odierno. CPA staffers and members of the Army Corps of
Engineers now have formed joint teams to search the Iraqi
countryside for projects to underwrite. "There's no way that the
military can fight an isolated campaign," chief coalition forces
spokesman Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told me. "We need to work
hand in hand with ... the CPA."

But you rarely hear about this supposed cooperation from troops in
the field. Major John Nagl of the 1st Infantry Division, stationed
in the heart of the Sunni Triangle, recently told The New York
Times Magazine's Peter Maass that he had never seen anybody at his
base from the CPA. Pointing to an empty chair in the base canteen,
Nagl said, "Where's the guy from the CPA? He should be sitting
right there in that seat." Last November, I traveled to Al Amarah,
a small city three hours south of Baghdad, to see how local police
forces were faring in the new Iraq. Al Amarah's ragged cops, I
learned, were in desperate need of guns, vehicles, radios, and
uniforms, which the CPA was supposed to provide. The British army
stationed outside town was supplying them with a few captured
AK-47s, but a British lieutenant complained to me, "This isn't
supposed to be our responsibility. It's supposed to be the CPA's.
But there is no CPA." Indeed, eight months into the occupation, a
permanent CPA administrator hadn't yet arrived in Al Amarah. In the
meantime, the murder rate there was rising, and Islamic militants
had recently engaged the police in an all-night gun battle, forcing
the British army to step in and try to stop the violence.

The situation is even worse along the Syrian border. There, a newly
created Border Police force is trying to stop infiltrations by
foreign fighters-- including the terrorists believed responsible
for the wave of suicide attacks that have killed hundreds of
Iraqis. The CPA is supposed to equip the new force, but "we don't
get shit from them," Colonel Antonio Aguto of the 3rd Armored
Cavalry Regiment told me. "They've got no uniforms, no vehicles, no
guns, so we took our own money and used it to fund the Border
Police. I bought forty Toyota Cruisers for them; I bought
twenty-four high-frequency radios, four separate base stations. I
built the outposts along the border."

Nevertheless, the border police remain a sorry sight. I visited them
one night at an observation post near the border-crossing at Al
Qaim, where six ragged men armed with aging AK-47s and a handful of
bullets huddled around a kerosene lamp in the cold in a looted,
graffiti-stained hut once manned by the old Iraqi army. "We can't
do our jobs properly in these conditions," the men told me. In
Tikrit, meanwhile, the 4th Infantry Division has been forced to
equip the icdc because the CPA hasn't made the funds available.
"We've had to pull the icdc together, providing weapons out of
captured stocks," Lieutenant Colonel Steven Russell, a battalion
commander, told me. "We've been trying to get them uniforms since
August. We finally contracted ourselves with some local Iraqis to
make them." Russell offered a qualified defense of the civilian
mission. "I'm not going to say that the CPA is a failure," he told
me. "They do an impossible job. They have an incredibly difficult
task in an environment replete with challenges. Throwing money
around is no guarantee of success."

There is no shortage of money to throw around. Although the $18.6
billion allocated by Congress won't reach Iraq until next summer,
the CPA has recovered hundreds of millions of dollars in seized
assets from the former regime and also has oil revenue, which
totaled $5 billion in 2003. The problem, say CPA insiders, is a
cumbersome contract process involving many agencies and tight
controls. "The CPA money is starting to flow, but it takes time,"
says Kennon. "You can't just take bags of cash and go downtown."
Some officials have managed to cut through the bureaucracy.
Gfoeller, a veteran American diplomat in Russia and the Middle East
and an Arabic speaker, has spent $70 million on both feel- good
projects like school rehabilitations and women's rights centers and
also urgently required equipment like Glock pistols for the Iraqi
police. That's more than local CPA offices have disbursed in the
three other regions of Iraq combined. Even so, considering that
Gfoeller's region has a population of twelve million, the spending
works out to only $6 per person. That's hardly enough to benefit
them materially, and it has been left up to the troops to fill in
the gaps.

Some officials contend there's no excuse for the CPA's inertia. "Am
I happy with the pace of things since I left? No, I'm really
unhappy," says one Bremer aide who departed Baghdad late last year.
"The problem is that you need to have more talent at the CPA. You
need people to work hard getting contracts out, people who know
what the hell they're doing. There's no sense of urgency there. I'm
not impressed by the talent pool." Neither are the troops. As I rode
in a Humvee past CPA headquarters in Tikrit on my way to the chow
hall for lunch, the U.S. Army public affairs officer at the wheel
cast a dismissive look at the guest palace housing the civilians.
"I don't know what they do," she said, shaking her head.

By Joshua Hammer

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