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Reconstructing Iraq: Challenges and Missions for Military Forces in a Post-Conflict Scenario

Authored by Dr. Conrad C. Crane, Dr. W. Andrew Terrill. | January 2003

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By the time Germany surrendered in May 1945, detailed Allied planning for the post-conflict phase of operations in that nation had been ongoing for 2 years. 1 In contrast, LTG John Yeosock, commander of Third Army in Operation DESERT STORM, could get no useful staff support to assess and plan for post-conflict issues like hospital beds, prisoners, and refugees, complaining later that he was handed a ?dripping bag of manure? that no one else wanted to deal with. 2 Neither the Army nor Department of Defense had an adequate plan for postwar operations to rebuild Kuwait, and civilian agencies were even more unprepared. The situation was only salvaged by the adept improvisations of Army engineers and civil affairs personnel, and the dedicated efforts of Kuwaiti volunteers and the SaudiArabian government.3

Some of the deficiencies in postwar planning for DESERT STORM can be attributed to the fact that Third Army was the first American field army in combat since the Korean War. Post-conflict planning historically has been a function of headquarters at echelons above corps, and continuing problems with more recent operations are at least partly attributable to the generally small scale of American interventions. Also, U.S. Army leaders and planners tend to focus on winning wars and not on the peacekeeping or nation-building that comes afterwards. But national objectives often can only be accomplished after the fighting has ceased, and it is possible to win a war and lose the peace.

With the winds of war swirling around Iraq, it is time to plan for its post-conflict reconstruction. To assist such planning, this study proposes a construct for identifying the postwar missions to be accomplished following a victory over the Hussein regime and suggests the time phasing for the accomplishment of specific tasks. The interagency planning for Haiti, which produced a detailed list of post-crisis tasks and responsibilities well in advance of any possible combat, was an excellent approach. Still, that operation eventually failed because civilian agencies proved incapable of completing the mission once military forces left, due to inadequate resources or inflated expectations. Recent experiences in the Balkans and Afghanistan have demonstrated the potential assistance that can be provided by international and non-governmental organizations, though coordination with them can be difficult.

In Iraq it will also be important to lessen military involvement as expeditiously as possible, so interagency planners must be sure that governmental, non-governmental, and international civilian organizations are ready to perform assigned tasks when required. The primary problem at the core of American deficiencies in providing post-conflict capabilities, resources, and commitment is a national aversion to nation-building. U.S. leaders must accept this mission as an essential part of our national security and better tailor and fund the military services and civilian governmental organizations to accomplish it. This will take considerable manpower and money.


1. For more on Operation ECLIPSE in Germany, see Kenneth O. McCreedy, ?Planning the Peace: Operation Eclipse and the Occupation of Germany,? The Journal of Military History, Vol. LXV, No. 3, July 2001, pp. 713-739.

2. John J. Yeosock, remarks in ?What We Should Have Done Differently,? Part II ofIn the Wake of the Storm: Gulf War Commanders Discuss Desert Storm, Wheaton, IL: Cantigny First Division Foundation, 2000, p. 25.

3. Ibid., p. 29; Janet A. McDonnell, After Desert Storm: The U.S. Army and the Reconstruction of Kuwait, Washington, DC: Department of the Army, 1999.