Building a Democratic Iraq

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Building a Democratic Iraq

The U.S.-led military campaign known as Operation Iraqi Freedom succeeded in removing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (1937–) from power after only six weeks of fighting. In addition to ending a brutal regime and bringing the prospect of freedom to the people of Iraq, the war demonstrated the strength and technological superiority of the American military. As soon as the war ended, the Bush administration began working to rebuild Iraq and help its people create a democratic government (a form of government in which the people govern the country through elected representatives).

But Bush's postwar plans soon ran into trouble. Security became a concern as Iraqi insurgents (people who fight against an established government or occupation force) and foreign fighters launched a series of violent attacks against American troops and international aid workers in Iraq. The lack of security made it difficult for humanitarian aid to reach the Iraqi people, so the poor conditions in the country were slow to improve. Despite massive searches, no evidence of weapons of mass destruction was found in Iraq, which raised questions about the Bush administration's stated reasons for going to war. The United States and the United Nations (UN) argued over who should take responsibility for rebuilding Iraq and overseeing its transition to democracy.

Overall, some progress was made toward creating a new Iraqi government and rebuilding important facilities in the war-torn country. But by the end of 2003, some analysts wondered whether the conflict may have actually decreased America's national security, rather than making America safer, as the Bush administration claimed, by straining its relations with its longtime allies and creating more anti-U.S. feelings in the Arab world.

Experts praise the coalition's military performance

The one element of the Iraq War that received widespread approval was the performance of U.S. and coalition troops. The conduct of the war received a great deal of praise from military analysts. Retired U.S. Air Force Major General Don Sheppard, who commented on the Iraq War for, called it "a textbook case for the war colleges for the future."

The U.S. strategy used a relatively small number of ground forces and focused on speed and flexibility. It relied on intelligence (information gathered through spying) to locate Iraqi government and military targets, and then used precision-guided "smart" bombs to destroy the targets, ideally without damaging nearby civilian (nonmilitary) facilities. "It was in some ways a new kind of war, swift in its execution, light and flexible in its tactics, making strategic use of Special Operations forces, real-time intelligence, and precision targeting," Todd Purdum wrote in A Time of Our Choosing. The U.S. war plan and state-of-the-art military technology allowed coalition forces to advance quickly toward Baghdad, easily overcoming the limited Iraqi resistance.

During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, only 9 percent of coalition bombs were precision-guided. That number increased to 70 percent during the 2003 Iraq War, according to Purdum. Many analysts credited the coalition's easy victory to its ability to identify and hit targets, day or night, in any kind of weather. The use of "smart" bombs also prevented large-scale civilian deaths and limited the damage to Iraq's infrastructure (roads, bridges, buildings, oil facilities, and so on). "What's happened is amazing for the speed with which it was executed, but also for all the things that did not happen, all the bad things that could have happened, because of that speed," said U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (1932–), as quoted by After the war ended, however, some people wondered whether the coalition's rapid military success contributed to the problems that plagued the reconstruction effort.

Reconstruction plans run into trouble

Bush administration officials outlined their plans for the reconstruction of Iraq even before the war ended. The original plans required U.S. troops to maintain security, oversee the rebuilding of Iraq's infrastructure, distribute aid to the Iraqi people, create an interim (temporary) government, and supervise the transition to a democratic government. "We have to help Iraqis restore their basic services," Rumsfeld explained, as quoted in Online NewsHour. "And we have to help provide conditions of stability and security so that the Iraqi people can form an interim authority, an interim government, and then ultimately a free Iraqi government based on political freedom, individual liberty, and the rule of law."

Retired U.S. Army General Jay Garner (1938–) was placed in charge of the reconstruction effort in January 2003. He was replaced in May by former diplomat and U.S. State Department official L. Paul Bremer III (1941–). Bremer became head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, a civil administration that still reported to the U.S. secretary of defense. The handover from Garner to Bremer symbolized Iraq's transition from military to civilian authority following the end of combat operations. At around the same time, the U.S. military presence in Iraq was placed under the command of Lieutenant General John Abizaid (1951–), a Lebanese American who could speak Arabic.

The Bush administration's original reconstruction plans were based on their belief that the Iraqi people would welcome coalition troops as "liberators" who freed them from Hussein's brutal regime, rather than viewing them as foreign invaders. They believed that military success in Iraq would create pro-American feelings among the Iraqi people and encourage them to work toward establishing a democratic government and a new economy. But the coalition forces were rarely greeted by cheering crowds. Instead, most Iraqis either resented the presence of foreign soldiers in their country or worried that Hussein would return to power as soon as the troops left. Some Iraqi civilians put up fierce resistance against the coalition troops.

The administration also counted on the use of precision-guided weapons to limit the damage to Iraq's infrastructure and oil fields and thus make reconstruction easier. In fact, these facilities did not suffer much damage during the 2003 war. But many industrial plants were in bad shape due to neglect and a lack of maintenance during the decade of UN economic sanctions against Iraq. (Economic sanctions are trade restrictions intended to punish a country for breaking international law.) Other facilities were damaged by Iraqis during and after the war through looting, vandalism, and sabotage, such as destroying oil and water pipelines. These factors complicated the reconstruction effort and made the cost of rebuilding much higher.

Administration officials knew that Hussein's fall would create a power vacuum in Iraq, so they expected some security problems during the postwar period. But the situation in Iraq turned out to be much different and more complicated than they thought. Shortly after Baghdad fell to coalition forces, widespread looting and violence broke out across the city. Some Iraqis broke into Hussein's palaces and stole everything of value they could find. Angry mobs gathered outside government buildings and set several on fire, including the Information Ministry. Some people used the chaos as an opportunity to take revenge on their enemies.

Troops struggle to maintain security

Many observers felt that the coalition forces should have done more to maintain order in Baghdad. But the troops' rapid advance to the capital meant that there were not enough soldiers to provide effective security. In addition, the forces that occupied the city were not trained as peacekeepers. To complicate the situation, one of Bremer's first acts as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority was to disband Iraq's army and security forces. He did this because he was worried that Iraqi civilians would not trust people who had worked for Hussein to enforce the new rule of law. When unrest broke out in Baghdad and other cities, however, some observers questioned Bremer's decision. Critics claimed that a trained Iraqi security force could have prevented much of the violence. Others worried about what problems the now-unemployed soldiers' bitterness toward the U.S. leaders might cause.

As it turned out, the lack of effective security in the days following the end of the war did lasting damage to the Americans' image among the Iraqi people. "Frankly, the people are beginning to lose their trust in America," declared Walid al-Fartousi, a Baghdad fruit and vegetable vendor, in A Time of Our Choosing. "Because America promised Iraq to remove the tyrant government, but now things are even worse. Some people are even beginning to wish Saddam had stayed because all the troubles erupted after his departure.... There is no security, no order. People do not feel safe." Still, Bush administration officials believed that the situation would improve with time. "You cannot do everything instantaneously [all at once]," Rumsfeld argued in A Time of Our Choosing. "Freedom's untidy. And free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They're also free to live their lives and do wonderful things."

The UN seeks a larger role in reconstruction

As the weeks passed following the end of combat operations, the confusion and disorder continued in many parts of Iraq. The Bush administration's reconstruction plans came under increasingly harsh criticism in Iraq, in the United States, and internationally. Critics claimed that U.S. leaders had failed to set out a clear and complete plan for Iraq's reconstruction. They wanted American officials to set a concrete timetable for Iraq to achieve its independence and for U.S. troops to withdraw. But the Bush administration resisted calls for a firm deadline. Bush said at one point that U.S. forces would occupy Iraq for "as long as it takes."

Some critics claimed that the slow transition from combat to nation building in Iraq threatened to turn a major military victory into a political, economic, and humanitarian disaster. "Today we're at the high point of our military credibility but sadly, we're at the low point of our political credibility," said Zbigniew Brzezinski (1928–), former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter (1924–; served 1977–81) and an analyst for Online NewsHour. "Very few people in the world really feel comfortable with the way we did it [conquered Iraq], particularly internationally, and very few people are convinced we'll exploit [use] the victory to translate the military success into an enduring political success."

The United Nations pressed President Bush to give the international community a larger role in the reconstruction of Iraq. The UN especially wanted to help shape the new Iraqi government. UN leaders warned that the international community's approval was needed to establish the legitimacy of the new administration in Iraq. "The military can bring about an absence of war, but what is going to be required are civilian agencies, the international community to bring about the peace," explained retired U.S. Army General George Joulwan, a former supreme allied commander of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces and an analyst for Online NewsHour. (NATO is an alliance of nineteen countries, including the United States, that have agreed to defend one another in wartime.) "We not only have to win the war, we have got to win the peace. That is going to take a concerted [intense] effort and that's going to take time."

But U.S. leaders were determined to maintain their control over reconstruction. Bush wanted the UN to play a role in providing food, medicine, and humanitarian aid to the people of Iraq, but he insisted that the United States would handle Iraq's political transition alone.

On May 22 the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1483, which recognized the United States and Great Britain as "occupying powers" in Iraq. This status gave the two countries specific obligations under international law, such as the responsibility to protect the civilian population in the occupied country. The resolution also outlined a series of initial steps with regard to UN participation in the reconstruction process. For example, it lifted the economic sanctions that had affected Iraq for more than ten years; appointed a UN special representative, longtime diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello (1948–2003), to speak for the UN in Baghdad; and set up a billion-dollar development fund for humanitarian and reconstruction needs in Iraq. "Whatever view each of us may take of the events of recent months, it is vital to all of us that the outcome is a stable democratic Iraq at peace with itself and with its neighbors, and contributing to the stability of the region," UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan (1938–) told Online NewsHour.

But the UN resolution caused problems in Iraq. Some Iraqis were angry that the U.S. military presence in Iraq had been officially designated as an "occupation" (the control of a country by a foreign military force). This led some Iraqis to doubt Bush's claim that the United States had no interest in taking over Iraq. Many Iraqis reacted to the resolution by demanding that the United States move more quickly to transfer political power back to the Iraqi people.

Coalition troops encounter growing resistance

The attacks against coalition forces in Iraq began to increase in June, to an average of about two dozen per day. The Iraqi resistance movement seemed to become more determined and organized as time went on. It included former members of Hussein's Baath Party government, as well as foreign fighters from nearby countries, such as Syria, Iran, and Yemen. Some of the insurgents were Islamic extremists with ties to Al Qaeda and other international terrorist organizations. (Al Qaeda is a radical Islamic terrorist group responsible for the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States.) They hated the U.S. occupation of a Muslim country and targeted coalition forces as well as Iraqi citizens who appeared to be cooperating with the coalition.

The resistance movement appeared to have several different goals. Some fighters simply wanted to force the coalition troops to leave Iraq. They believed that if they could inflict enough casualties (dead and wounded soldiers), the American people would demand that Bush withdraw his troops. "Failing to win the conventional war, they began an unconventional war focused on dueling civilizations," wrote Williamson Murray and Robert H. Scales Jr. in The Iraq War: A Military History. "If they could kill enough Americans in the name of religion and culture, then perhaps they would regain the support of the Iraqi people and others in the Islamic world, and the Americans would become discouraged by the human cost and withdraw."

Other insurgents fought to preserve the influence of Islamic law and Arab culture in Iraq. Even the leaders of some nearby countries felt threatened by the prospect of a secular (nonreligious), democratic government in the heart of the Middle East. "Iraq is the nexus [center] where many issues are coming together—Islam versus democracy, the West versus the axis of evil, Arab nationalism versus some different types of political culture," Barham Saleh, a Kurdish official in northern Iraq, said in A Time of Our Choosing. "If the Americans succeed here, this will be a monumental [huge] blow to everything the terrorists stand for."

The violent resistance created a tense and dangerous situation for coalition forces in Iraq. But Bush remained determined. He warned the insurgents that their actions would not persuade him to withdraw American troops. In one controversial statement, he seemed to issue a challenge to the attackers. "There are some who feel like if they attack us that we may decide to leave prematurely [too early]," he said in early July, according to A Time of Our Choosing. "They don't understand what they're talking about, if that's the case.... My answer is, bring 'em on." Many people criticized the phrase "bring 'em on," saying that it seemed to be daring the insurgents to kill U.S. soldiers. But others felt it was simply an expression of confidence in U.S. troops.

Search fails to uncover weapons of mass destruction

After reaching an all-time high of 70 percent in April 2003, Bush's approval ratings began to fall in July. The continuing attacks on coalition troops contributed to the decline, as did concerns that the Bush administration did not have a clear plan for the reconstruction of Iraq. At the time, the White House was also facing a scandal concerning its reasons for launching the war against Iraq.

On July 6, 2003, the New York Times published an article accusing the Bush administration of exaggerating

Iraqi Opposition Groups

The major political figures in the new Iraqi government come from the many opposition groups that resisted Saddam Hussein's rule. Although dozens of opposition groups existed both within and outside Iraq, a handful emerged as the most powerful. In the years leading up to the 2003 Iraq War, U.S. leaders provided support to some of these groups. They hoped that the Iraqi opposition might organize a successful uprising that would remove Hussein from power, thus avoiding a direct U.S. military invasion. U.S. government officials also consulted with the leaders of these groups to identify the weaknesses in Hussein's defenses and measure the level of popular support for an invasion among the Iraqi people. But the main Iraqi opposition groups differed greatly in their membership and goals, which raised questions about their ability to cooperate and form a democratic government in Iraq.

Two of the strongest opposition groups formed among the non-Arab Kurds of northern Iraq. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) controls the northwestern part of the autonomous (self-governed) region known as Iraqi Kurdistan. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) controls the southeastern part of Iraqi Kurdistan. Both of these groups have a long history of resistance to Iraq's central government and have played a significant role in Iraqi politics. Their main goal is to break off from Iraq and form an independent Kurdish nation. Since their membership is based on tribal loyalty, the two groups have shared an uneasy balance of power over the years. The Kurdish independence movement in Iraq also faces resistance from the governments of nearby Turkey and Iran, which want to prevent their own Kurdish populations from declaring independence.

Founded in 1946, the KDP is led by Kurdish tribal leader Massoud Barzani (1946–). KDP fighters sided with Iran during the Iran-Iraq War (1980–88). Hussein's army responded by arresting thousands of members of the Barzani clan, most of whom were never seen again. Following the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the KDP took part in the widespread Iraqi uprisings against Hussein's government. When the expected U.S. military support failed to materialize, Hussein's army crushed the uprising and two million Kurds were forced to flee across the mountains into Turkey and Iran. Many Kurds felt betrayed by the United States, which made them reluctant to support the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. Ultimately, however, Kurdish fighters helped American forces capture several cities in northern Iraq.

Founded in the nearby country of Syria in 1975, the PUK is led by Jalal Talabani (1933–). This group also supported Iran during the Iran-Iraq War. Hussein's regime responded in 1988 with the "Anfal" campaign, in which the Iraqi army used poison gas to destroy thousands of Kurdish villages and kill more than five thousand Kurds. PUK fighters were forced to flee to Iran, but they returned to take part in the 1991 uprisings against Hussein's government. In 1996 tensions between the two Kurdish political groups erupted into a civil war, and the KDP accepted assistance from the Iraqi army to push back the PUK. A peace agreement brokered by the United States favored the KDP, but relations between the two groups have remained peaceful since then.

Another leading Iraqi opposition group is the Iraqi National Accord. Founded in 1990 with the support of Saudi Arabia, it is composed largely of former military and security officials in Hussein's government who left Iraq. Most of its members are Sunni Muslims. Its leader, Iyad Alawi, was a senior Iraqi intelligence officer who left Iraq in 1971. The Iraqi National Accord's main strategy involved attracting dissatisfied military and security officers within Iraq and trying to organize an overthrow of Hussein's government. In 1996 it organized a disastrous military coup against Hussein. Hussein's security force uncovered the plot and captured and executed the one hundred officers involved. Before the 2003 Iraq War, the Iraqi National Accord used its contacts among Iraqi military and security forces to encourage them not to fight.

The main religious group to oppose Hussein's rule was the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Founded in 1982 in Iran, its aim is to protect the country's Islamic spiritual identity and values. Its membership consists mainly of Iraqi Shiite exiles. It has been criticized over the years for its close ties to Iran, which U.S. leaders view as a dangerous, unfriendly nation. The SCIRI organized some of the Shiite uprisings that took control of several major cities in southern Iraq following the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Hussein's army crushed the uprisings when the rebels failed to gain U.S. military support. Many Shiite leaders were executed, and a number of villages and mosques (religious temples) were destroyed. Despite his distrust of the U.S. government, the SCIRI's leader, Ayatollah Muhammad Bakar Al-Hakim, cooperated with the 2003 invasion. He was killed shortly after the war ended when a car bomb destroyed a mosque near Najaf. He was succeeded by his brother, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim.

Another influential opposition group is the Iraqi National Congress (INC), led by Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi (1944–). Formed in 1992, the INC was originally intended to act as an umbrella organization for all of the major Iraqi opposition groups. A statement of its purpose, quoted in The Iraq War Reader, says that it "provides an institutional framework so that the popular will of the Iraqi people ... can be democratically determined and implemented [put into practice]." At one time the INC had 234 members representing 90 percent of the Iraqi opposition groups. In the mid-1990s it lost some influence due to infighting between the Kurdish groups, and it ended up relocating its headquarters from northern Iraq to London. The INC has been criticized over the years for its close ties to the United States and its lack of popular support among the people of Iraq.

Sources: What Lies Beneath. Washington, DC: International Crisis Group, 2002; "A Who's Who of the Iraqi Opposition." In Sifry, Micah L., and Christopher Serf, eds. The Iraq War Reader. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003.

the threat posed by Hussein and his alleged weapons of mass destruction. Joseph Wilson (1959–), a former U.S. ambassador to several countries in Africa, told the paper that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had sent him to Africa to find out whether Iraq had tried to purchase uranium (a rare, radioactive element used in the construction of nuclear weapons) from Niger, a country in northern central Africa. Wilson checked out the story and determined that it was untrue. Upon returning to the United States in March 2002, he reported his findings to the CIA. Months later, however, President Bush included the accusation in his 2003 State of the Union address. Bush claimed that Iraq had tried to acquire uranium from Africa, which he said proved that Hussein was intent on building nuclear weapons. U.S. leaders later cited the need to prevent Iraq from acquiring nuclear capability as a major reason for launching the 2003 Iraq War.

Wilson came forward at a time when concern about the postwar situation in Iraq was increasing. He claimed that the Bush administration knowingly misused intelligence information to make its case for going to war. "Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat," Wilson stated, as quoted by Wilson's article proved a major embarrassment for the administration and increased doubts about the accuracy of the president's other claims regarding Iraq.

During the months following the end of combat operations, UN and U.S. inspectors conducted a massive search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. More than a thousand inspectors combed the country and interviewed former members of Hussein's regime, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. By the end of 2003, they had not uncovered any evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. In fact, the evidence available suggested that Iraq's weapons programs had been discontinued in the mid-1990s.

If Iraq did not possess nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons, then it was unclear why Hussein refused to cooperate fully with UN weapons inspectors in the months leading

Members of the Iraq Governing Council

The first transitional government in Iraq following the fall of Saddam Hussein was called the Iraq Governing Council. Its membership included twenty-five leading Iraqis whose political, ethnic, and religious backgrounds reflected the diversity of Iraq's population. The original members of the council, and their religious and political affiliations, were:

Ahmad Chalabi (Shiite): Founder of the Iraqi National Congress.

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim (Shiite): Leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

Iyad Alawi (Shiite): Leader of the Iraqi National Accord.

Ibrahim al-Jafari (Shiite): Leader of the Daawa Islamic Party.

Abdel-Zahraa Othman Mohammed (Shiite): Member of the Daawa Islamic Party.

Hamid Majid Moussa (Shiite): Leader of the Communist Party.

Abdel-Karim Mahoud al-Mohammedawi (Shiite): Member of the Hezbollah Party.

Ahmed al-Barak (Shiite): Human rights activist.

Aquila al-Hashimi (Shiite): Foreign affairs expert and diplomat (assassinated in September 2003).

Raja Habib al-Khuzai (Shiite): Hospital director.

Mohammed Bahr al-Uloum (Shiite): Cleric from Najaf.

Wael Abdul Latif (Shiite): Judge and governor of Basra.

Mouwafak al-Rabii (Shiite): Doctor and human rights activist.

Adnan Pachachi (Sunni): Former foreign minister and Iraqi ambassador to the UN.

Nasir al-Chadirch (Sunni): Leader of the National Democratic Party.

Mohsen Abdel Hamid (Sunni): Leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party.

Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer (Sunni): Northern tribal leader.

Samir Shakir Mahmoud (Sunni): Writer.

Massoud Barzani (Sunni Kurd): Leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party.

Jalal Talabani (Sunni Kurd): Leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

Salaheddine Bahaaeddin (Sunni Kurd): Leader of the Kurdistan Islamic Union.

Mahmoud Othman (Sunni Kurd): Founder of the Kurdish Socialist Party.

Dara Noor Alzin (Sunni Kurd): Judge.

Younadem Kana (Assyrian Christian): Engineer and trade minister.

Sondul Chapouk (Turkoman): Engineer, teacher, and activist.

Sources: "The Iraq Governing Council." Online NewsHour. Available online at (accessed on January 8, 2004); White, Thomas E., et al. Reconstructing Eden: A Comprehensive Plan for the Postwar Political and Economic Development of Iraq. Houston, TX: CountryWatch, 2003.

up to the 2003 Iraq War. Some analysts claimed that Hussein resisted the inspections in order to save face and maintain his standing in the Arab world. Others thought that he allowed the world to believe that he possessed weapons of mass destruction in an effort to prevent military action by the United States, or to maintain his fear-based rule over the Iraqi people.

In any case, evidence collected after the war suggested that Iraq did not possess such weapons. In January 2004 a respected independent organization called the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace published a report stating that Iraq had not posed a threat to United States or world security before the 2003 war, despite the Bush administration's claims. "There are no large stockpiles of weapons," the report's author, weapons expert Joseph Cirincione, told "There hasn't actually been a find of a single weapon, a single weapons agent, nothing like the programs that the administration believe existed." The report also claimed that the Bush administration put pressure on the CIA to agree with its views regarding the threat posed by Iraq.

Iraq forms a transitional government

One week after Wilson published his article in the New York Times, Iraq took the first step toward forming a new, democratic government. The Iraq Governing Council (IGC), an interim government composed of twenty-five leading Iraqis from a range of political, ethnic, and religious backgrounds, held its first official meeting on July 13. The Coalition Provisional Authority chose the members of the IGC to reflect Iraq's population. For example, Shiite Muslims account for 60 percent of Iraq's population, so they received thirteen seats on the council. The IGC also included five Sunni Muslims, five non-Arab Kurds, one Christian, and one Turkoman. Three of the council members were women.

Many members of the IGC were the leaders of various groups that had opposed Hussein's government. Since Hussein often used violence to silence his political opponents, some of the council members had fled Iraq and lived in exile abroad for many years. Some people worried that these exiles might have problems winning the respect of those who had remained in Iraq and suffered under Hussein's rule. Others wondered whether the different religious beliefs and ethnic backgrounds of the council might cause internal conflicts that would prevent it from addressing the needs of the Iraqi people.

But the IGC showed its determination to be a positive force for change in Iraq during its first meeting. The group's first official act was to ban six national holidays that had been put in place under Hussein's rule. They declared that Iraq's new national holiday would be April 9, the date Baghdad fell to coalition forces. They also began sending diplomats to visit foreign governments, setting up a budget, and forming a war crimes court to try former members of Hussein's government.

Over the next several months, the IGC continued to work toward forming a democratic government in Iraq. It faced pressures from various groups that wanted to advance their own interests. For example, the Kurds of northern Iraq wanted to make sure that the new government recognized their desire for an independent homeland. The Sunnis of central Iraq wanted assurance that their needs would not be ignored by a government largely controlled by Shiites. Shiite religious leaders in the south wanted to ensure that Islamic law played an important role in the principles of the new government. These conflicting interests sometimes made it difficult for the IGC to perform its duties.

The next steps in the political process included selecting a transitional assembly of 250 members representing Iraq's provinces, drafting and approving a new constitution, and holding free elections. Coalition leaders set a goal of handing over power to a sovereign [independent] Iraqi government by July 1, 2004. But they realized that it would be difficult to transfer political power to the Iraqis if coalition troops could not control the instability and violence within the country.

A series of terrorist attacks hit Iraq

One week after the IGC held its first meeting, the coalition located and eliminated two of the most-wanted members of Hussein's regime. On July 22 coalition leaders announced that Hussein's two sons, Qusay and Uday, had been killed in a six-hour shoot-out with U.S. troops in Mosul, a town in northern Iraq. Qusay (1966–2003) organized Hussein's brutal security force. He was chosen as the "ace of clubs," or second-highest card, in the special deck of playing cards issued to coalition troops to help them identify the fifty-five most-wanted members of the regime. Uday (1964–2003) was known for torturing and killing people in violent rampages. He was represented by the "ace of hearts," or third-highest card in the deck. Coalition forces were tipped off to the brothers' location by the owner of the house where they were staying. U.S. leaders had previously offered a $30 million reward for the two brothers. They positively identified the pair through dental records.

The Bush administration reacted to the news of Qusay and Uday's deaths with satisfaction and relief. They hoped that this evidence of Hussein's fall from power might persuade Baath Party loyalists to end their resistance. They even released photos and videotapes of the bodies in an effort to convince Iraqis that Hussein's sons were truly dead. But the attacks against coalition forces continued and even showed signs of greater coordination.

The first organized terrorist attack in Iraq took place on August 7, when a car bomb exploded outside the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad. Seventeen Iraqi civilians (people not involved in a war, including women and children) were killed in the attack. International terrorism experts pointed out that the attack took place on the anniversary of the date when U.S. troops were first sent to Saudi Arabia in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The Muslim cleric (religious leader) Osama bin Laden (1957–), who organized the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, cited the presence of American military forces in Saudi Arabia as a major motive for his actions. (Saudi Arabia is home to the sacred Muslim sites of Mecca and Medina, where millions of Islamic pilgrims travel every year. Bin Laden and many other Muslims, viewed the presence of foreign troops in the Islamic holy land as an offense to their religious beliefs.) The timing of the attack raised concerns that international terrorist groups were becoming involved in the violence in Iraq.

A second terrorist attack struck Baghdad on August 19, when a truck bomb destroyed much of the UN headquarters in Baghdad. The blast killed the UN's special representative to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and twenty-two other people. At least one hundred more were wounded. Terrorism experts believed that this attack was intended to frighten civilian aid workers in Iraq. In response, the United Nations increased its security and pulled many of its staff out of Iraq. Other aid organizations followed its example and reduced their presence in Baghdad. Ten days later a car bomb destroyed the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, which Shiite Muslims considered the holiest shrine in Iraq. Nearly one hundred people were killed, including Ayatollah Muhammad Bakar al-Hakim (1939–2003), the most prominent Shiite religious leader who was cooperating with the coalition's reconstruction efforts.

Postwar costs rise

The continuing violence in Iraq took the lives of many American soldiers as well. A total of 138 U.S. soldiers had been killed from the beginning of the Iraq War to the time that President Bush declared an end to combat operations on May 1. By the end of August, however, more U.S. troops had died in Iraq after the war ended than during the war itself. The number of postwar deaths topped 200 by the end of 2003. By January 2004 the total number of American soldiers killed in Iraq during and after the war had reached 500, making it the costliest U.S. military action since the Vietnam War (1955–75).

The continuing loss of American lives angered many U.S. citizens. Critics questioned Bush's control of the situation in Iraq and wondered whether the war was worth the cost. Three months after combat operations ended, 140,000 U.S. troops remained in Iraq. In contrast, there were only about 21,000 troops from other countries, and 11,000 of these were British. This meant that the other coalition partners had committed an average of fewer than 600 soldiers each. With large forces stationed in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military was stretched thin. Some people were worried that the country would not be prepared to respond if a conflict broke out in another part of the world.

In addition to the cost in American lives, there was the high financial cost of postwar reconstruction. A report published by the World Bank and the United Nations estimated that the reconstruction of Iraq would cost $36 billion over four years. The Coalition Provisional Authority increased this estimate by $19 billion. Some Americans felt that the Bush administration should give up some control in Iraq to the United Nations so that other countries would contribute more money and commit more troops.

But President Bush resisted the idea of sharing power with the United Nations. He particularly disliked the idea of granting profitable postwar rebuilding contracts to companies from countries (such as France) that had opposed the war. Many of the early reconstruction contracts went to U.S. companies that had political ties to the Bush administration. For example, the energy company Halliburton, which was formerly headed by Vice President Dick Cheney (1941–), received a huge contract without having to bid for the job against other companies. Critics complained that such deals unfairly limited competition and made it more difficult to persuade other countries to contribute to rebuilding costs.

Request for $87 billion causes controversy

On September 7 Bush asked the U.S. Congress to approve a request for $87 billion to fund military operations and reconstruction work in Iraq and Afghanistan. Before the war began, administration officials had repeatedly claimed that proceeds from Iraq's oil industry could pay for the nation's reconstruction. The figure met with controversy, both in Congress and among American citizens. Two weeks later, in the face of criticism over the high costs of rebuilding Iraq, Bush officially asked the international community for help. On September 23 he addressed the United Nations and asked world leaders to play a larger role in Iraq's reconstruction. He specifically mentioned a need for the United Nations to assist Iraq in developing a constitution, training civil servants, and conducting free elections.

In October the Bush administration announced it intended to speed up the transfer of power to Iraqis. In a major victory for Shiite religious leaders, the administration agreed to allow the Iraqi people to choose a new government before drafting a constitution. Several leading Shiites had refused to cooperate because they believed that only an elected Iraqi government should have the power to create a constitution. Otherwise, they argued, the new government would not have the support of the Iraqi people. U.S. officials, on the other hand, wanted its hand-picked interim government, the IGC, to draft the constitution. U.S. leaders were also reluctant to hold elections while terrorist attacks and unrest were still such a problem.

As part of the effort to transfer more responsibility for reconstruction to Iraqis, coalition troops trained more than twenty thousand Iraqis to act as a security force. This force replaced U.S. troops in guarding such important facilities as embassies, ministries, banks, humanitarian aid offices, and oil fields. The Iraqi security officers accepted a dangerous job. Since they were cooperating with the occupation forces and working to stabilize the country, they became a major target for insurgents and were regularly attacked with bombs and other weapons, killing and wounding many of them.

Coalition troops capture Saddam Hussein

The violence in Iraq continued throughout the fall of 2003. In late September a member of the IGC, Aquila al-Hashimi, died of wounds she suffered when her car was ambushed by gunmen. Coalition leaders were not safe from the violence either. Deputy U.S. Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (1943– ) visited Iraq in October and barely escaped a rocket attack that hit the Al Rasheed Hotel in Baghdad. Bremer was nearly killed in December when his convoy of vehicles was ambushed by insurgents outside the capital. In early November Baghdad was rocked by a series of coordinated bombing attacks. Four bombs exploded in less than an hour outside police stations and at the aid organization International Red Cross headquarters. Thirty-four Iraqis and one American were killed in the bombings.

On Thanksgiving Day, November 27, President Bush made a surprise visit to Baghdad, where he helped serve dinner to soldiers and raised the spirits of American forces. Coalition leaders received more good news two weeks before Christmas, when former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was captured. Responding to a tip from an informant, the Raider Brigade of the U.S. Army's Fourth Infantry Division searched a farm near the town of Adwar, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) from Hussein's hometown of Tikrit. They found Hussein hiding in an 8-foot-(2.5-meter-) deep "spider hole," concealed with dirt and bricks, outside a mud hut on the property. The former Iraqi leader, who was found with a pistol and $750,000 in cash, surrendered peacefully. He looked shaggy, with a ragged beard instead of his usual neatly trimmed mustache, and seemed confused. The coalition released pictures of Hussein taken during a medical exam and after he was cleaned up and shaved as proof of his capture.

Bremer announced the capture to the world in a press conference the following day. "Ladies and gentlemen, we got him," he stated, as quoted in Time magazine. "Iraq's future, your future, has never been more full of hope. The tyrant is a prisoner." Iraqi journalists attending the news conference stood up and cheered or cried. Some screamed "Kill him! Kill Saddam!" When the people of Baghdad heard the news, some of them threw candy in the streets or fired guns into the sky in celebration. But others expressed sadness or anger at seeing the longtime leader of Iraq humiliated.

Bush was thrilled by the capture of Hussein, and he hoped it might persuade former regime members to end their resistance. But he also warned, "The capture of Saddam Hussein does not mean the end of violence in Iraq," according to the Detroit Free Press. "We still face terrorists who would rather go on killing the innocent than accept the rise of liberty in the heart of the Middle East." Interviews with Hussein following his capture yielded little evidence that he was involved in planning the attacks against coalition forces. Although some insurgents may have been motivated by a desire to see Hussein return to power, most seemed to be acting mainly out of hatred for the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Iraq faces an uncertain future

The coalition rebuilding effort, led by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), accomplished a great deal in Iraq by the end of 2003. For example, the agency rebuilt two thousand schools and vaccinated two million Iraqi children against diseases. Yet most Iraqis did not have better lives under coalition rule. Food and other goods were more readily available than before the war, thanks to the lifting of UN economic sanctions. But many Iraqis still did not have reliable electric power or safe drinking water, and severe gasoline shortages affected much of the country. When teams of reporters from ABC News and Time interviewed Iraqis six months after the end of the war, the majority said that overall living conditions were the same or worse than they had been under Saddam Hussein.

By the end of 2003, it remained to be seen whether the coalition would succeed in creating a stable, democratic government in Iraq. Although large parts of northern and southern Iraq were calm, ongoing violence made many people in central Iraq feel unsafe. The fiercest resistance took place within the "Sunni triangle," an area in central Iraq bordered by Baghdad in the east, the town of Ramadi in the west, and Hussein's hometown of Tikrit in the north. Coalition leaders believed that this area contained the largest number of Baath Party members and other Iraqis who remained loyal to Hussein.

One positive sign took place in late December 2003, when the Arab League sent its first official delegation to Iraq. (The Arab League is an alliance of twenty Arab nations and the Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO] that promotes political, military, and economic cooperation in the Arab world.) The Arab League had refused to work with the IGC up to this point because it believed the interim government was controlled by the United States. The official visit signaled an important change in attitude that could lead to better relations between Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. "Better late than never," IGC member Ibrahim al-Jafari told the Christian Science Monitor. "They've come to get to know us better and to be involved with the new Iraq. We have too many resources and too much cultural relevance to the Arab world to be ignored."

Iraq War provides mixed results for Bush

The Iraq War accomplished several important goals for the Bush administration. It removed a brutal dictator from power, ended decades of repression of the Iraqi people, and demonstrated the strength of the U.S. military. But it also cost the United States billions of dollars, committed its military to a long and uncertain process of nation building, and strained the alliances with other nations that the United States had depended on since World War II (1939–45).

The Bush administration claimed that it had entered the war in order to make Americans safer. Afterward, however, some analysts argued that the invasion of Iraq had caused widespread resentment in the Arab world and made it easier for terrorist groups to recruit new members. "There was every bit as much evidence—if not more—that the war had inflamed anti-American feeling in the Arab and Muslim lands and had put American lives and installations at fresh risk as there were signs that toppling Saddam had made America safer," Purdum wrote. A report published by the U.S. Army War College in December 2003 called the invasion of Iraq a "strategic error" that spread U.S. military forces too thin and distracted from the global war on terrorism.

But the Bush administration continued to express confidence that the Iraq War would improve both the lives of Iraqi citizens and America's long-term national security. They encouraged the American people to be patient with the reconstruction efforts. "You don't build democracy like you build a house," said Wolfowitz, as quoted in A Time of Our Choosing. "Democracy grows like a garden. If you keep the weeds out and water the plants and you're patient, eventually you get something magnificent."

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Building a Democratic Iraq

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