WASHINGTON, Jan. 23 (UPI) -- A month before the March 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, a team of military and Middle East experts at the Army War College published a 60-page booklet that laid out in detail the problems the U.S. military would likely encounter and how to mitigate them.
Four years later, most of its recommendations apparently ignored, the report's warnings read like a history of the war.
"Without an overwhelming effort to prepare for occupation, the United States may find itself in a radically different world over the next few years, a world in which the threat of Saddam Hussein seems like a pale shadow of new problems of America's own making," said the report, entitled "Reconstructing Iraq: Insights, Challenges and Missions for Military Forces in a Post-Conflict Scenario."
"The possibility of the United States winning the war and losing the peace in Iraq is real and serious," the report said. "The effort also threatens to be a long and painful process, but merely 'toughing it out' is not a solution. The longer the occupation continues the greater the potential that it will disrupt society rather than rehabilitate it...However, a withdrawal from Iraq under the wrong circumstances could leave it an unstable failed state, serving as a haven for terrorism and a center of regional insecurity or danger to its neighbors. The premature departure of U.S. troops could also result in civil war."
The booklet, from the Strategic Studies Institute, was well read within the U.S. Army and at U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM, service officials said, but it did not penetrate much higher in the government.
In the months leading up to the war the report's warnings that an occupation of Iraq would be difficult and costly ran headlong into Bush administration predictions that victory would be relatively easy and Iraq would largely pay for its own reconstruction. Both assertions, now known to be inaccurate, helped persuade the U.S. Congress and the American public to support the invasion.
Now "Reconstructing Iraq" has gained new life. Largely overlooked by the media in the pre-war period when debate revolved around whether Saddam had WMD rather than how to manage the country after the invasion, the monograph has been quoted repeatedly in best-selling books dissecting the missteps of the war.
"One can look (oneself) in the mirror knowing that the profession you believe in did its part with respect to planning and thinking through a problem," one serving U.S. officer wrote to UPI.
The monograph is exceptionally prescient: it warned that within a year of the invasion there would likely be a virulent insurgency. In fact, the insurgency took hold a few months into the occupation.
"The combination of religious and Arab nationalist motives for wishing a speedy departure to U.S. occupation troops could allow U.S. forces to wear out their welcome even more rapidly than would be expected in most cases of foreign soldiers reordering the political structure of a defeated country," the report said. "The longer a U.S. occupation of Iraq continues, the more danger exists that elements of the Iraqi population will become impatient and take violent measures to hasten the departure of U.S. forces."
It warned of the difficulties of trying to establish a pluralistic democracy in a place where "anti-democratic tendencies are deeply ingrained."
"It is also reasonable to expect considerable resistance to efforts at even pluralism in Iraq. Iraq's Sunni Arabs, having enjoyed disproportionate power under a series of regimes, have every reason to assume that a democratic opening will occur at their expense," it said. " ... All may fear a situation where rival groups take a significant share of power and then refuse to yield it under whatever constitutional processes might be put in place."
The report warned that elections that feature the emergence of political parties along ethnic, religious and tribal lines would likely worsen tensions rather than unite the country. "Thus, even under free elections, differences within Iraqi society may be further exacerbated. Ethnically based political parties generally increase divisions rather than mitigate them in highly fractious countries," it said.
Lt. Gen. David Petreaus, President Bush's choice to take over the command of U.S. and coalition ground forces in Iraq, told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday, said that was exactly what has happened. "The elections that gave us such hope actually intensified sectarian divisions in the population at the expense of the sense of Iraqi identity," he said.
The 2003 report also warned against an attempt by the U.S. government to install Iraqi exiles at high levels of government, which it did in the first year of the occupation. Voters soundly rejected those leaders in the national election.
It recommended that the U.S. government attempt to co-opt key parts of the largely conscripted Iraqi military in rebuilding the country. Instead the military was officially disbanded, roundly considered one of the fundamental mistakes of the post-war period. Petraeus said Tuesday that decision was an early contributor to the growth of the insurgency.
The paper warned of the inevitability of terrorism and suicide bombers as a tactic of fighting the occupation.
"By ousting the Saddam Hussein regime, the United States will have placed itself in the position where it will be held responsible by the world should anarchy and civil war develop in a post-Saddam era. Having entered into Iraq, the United States will find itself unable to leave rapidly, despite the many pressures to do so," it said.
The monograph's two primary authors have seen their predictions and warnings come true, but carefully avoid anything that smacks of "I told you so."
"We were part of a wide range of opinions," said co-author Andrew Terrill, a Middle East specialist and counter-proliferation expert and reserve Army officer. "No one had to decide they had to listen to us."
Some central tenets from the paper now seem to have risen to the fore in the new Baghdad security plan -- the emphasis on politics, on reconstruction, on security.
But Terrill said it may be too late to implement most of the 135-point plan outlined in the report. The situation has changed considerably. What was once a toppled police state is now a battleground for primacy among sects, militias, criminals and terrorists.
"It's not just an orgy of hatred," Terrill said. "It's a power struggle."