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What Went Wrong in Iraq and How the United States Can Fix It Research Paper

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Updated: Oct 4th, 2021

When the United States set to raid Iraq, they supposed that the war was not going to last for a very long time. As such, they expected that it was not going to be a difficult task overhauling Saddam Hussein’s regime and replace it with a regime of their own choice. The majority of the American population did not perceive clearly how the consequences of the war would affect them in the long run. For the individuals who had designed the plan for the invasion of Iraq, they dangerously simplified it to the extent that they ignored some of the bitter realities that are today open not only to the people of the United States but also to the global community. The most important task was not the war itself but the days after the war. How was a democratic, pluralistic and stable Iraq going to be built after the war? This question was both under- and over-debated. Within the United States administration, post-conflict reconstruction was a major subject of unprecedented discussion.

The challenges which were to be faced after the war were either underestimated or overestimated. What is now clear is that there were some unprecedented outcomes which the aftermath of the war has brought to the fore. Instead of the timetable for the conflict being determined by the urgent outside events, it was chiefly the function of the United States diplomatic maneuvering, war planning, and decision making. The reasons for the war have been widely questioned and as time passes, reasons seem to shift from disarmament, with the idea that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, to changing the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein, and finally to the attempt by the United States to transform the Middle East.

A few neoconservatives have had a long-held belief that Saddam Hussein posed a major threat to the security of the Middle East. As such, for peace and stability to be guaranteed in the Middle East, it was necessary to oust him. With this respect, a new reordering of the Middle East which pushes out tyrannical forms of government was necessary. The threat to achieving democracy and modernity in the Middle East was Saddam. Others on the other hand believed that ousting Saddam Hussein will guarantee Israel’s security. However, the main reason which motivated the United States to invade Iraq was the perception of its immense power which integrates idealism and force.

Many of these individuals believed in an American position had to be asserted aggressively. These neoconservatives saw the period under Bush and Clinton as Periods of retreat. They had much confidence in the supremacy of America that all they required was a mission. They however would not have waited for too long before they could see an opportunity. This came with 9/11. The turning point came with this event. Many Americans, including Bush and several liberals, sought for the use of the power of the nation which integrated idealism with force after the nine-eleven attack. This use for the nation’s power had to ensure the reordering of the Middle East and in Iraq, they found it.

The Bush administration is on record as having taken the largest and the most sensitive foreign policy project within a very short period of time with little planning and forethought. Within a very short period, it had occupied a foreign country with a population of twenty-five million individuals in the Middle East. The project was based on abstract ideas besides being indifferent to accountability. A difficult undertaking was turned into a dangerous one by those in a position of high responsibility. When things began to go wrong, they never failed to find someone to shift the blame to. Before the war, the challenges which the United States was likely to encounter in governing Iraq were clearly outlined.

As a framework for tackling these challenges, references were made to the reconstructions which had taken place successfully in the twentieth century. From their analysis of the reconstructions which had taken place in the twentieth century, they drew a conclusion that success depended upon two factors which were the establishment of security and having the support of the global community. The reports passed through several important think-tank studies that confirmed these conclusions, particularly on the need for a massive force to maintain security. The careful thinking and planning was either ignored or dismissed.

Among the things which caused trouble was the struggle that existed between the Defense Department and the State Department. As such, no meaningful and comprehensive policy process could be achieved. The Defense Department regarded the State Department as the enemy, making it become difficult to work with other countries. Defense Secretary did not see nation-building as a good idea and since he considered that the Clinton administration had done too much of it and the military was to stop doing the same. The American people believed that this was a perfectly manageable and straightforward task since the war was to be a war of liberation hence reconstruction would not take a long period of time. The original battle plan which included five hundred thousand troops was thinned down to one hundred and sixty.

The aura of authority that characterized the occupation got lost with the beginning of looting. This went unchecked even as everything has begun to spiral downwards. The American officials in Iraq began to be replaced as bureaucratic battles took root. With the replacement of Garner with Bremer, things have begun to change for the worse. Bremer’s administrative experience prior to his appointment was restricted to the running of the American Embassy in the Netherlands. He made decisions that proved to be catastrophic. These were the disbandment of the Iraqi army and de-Baathification which banned the highest level of the Baath Party from government service regardless of whether or not an individual has had criminal dealings. In Iraq, this was equal to being forced into unemployment. In less than a day, thirty-five thousand employees of the bureaucracy who were mostly Sunnis lost their jobs. This included mid-level functionaries and thousands of school teachers. Subsequently, a thousand more were purged.

According to Bremer, his most popular act was de-Baathification decree. Among the Shiites, this was particularly true. This is however synonymous to saying that Iraq’s northern region would have been satisfied in case he had proclaimed independence for the Kurds. This was disastrous considering that it could not provide the balancing act which had kept peace among the Iraq’s three communities. The decisions that Bremer made was interpreted differently. The Sunnis felt that the new Iraq will strip them of their jobs and status. The social structure of Iraq was appended by Bremer in just a day. This he did without adequate measures which would guarantee that the old Sunni bureaucrats are replaced with a new ruling class. Thousands of professionals within the state run institutions, from Universities, hospitals, schools and very government office together with much of the managerial classes were thrown out of jobs by the first decree that denied employment and jobs to the top four levels of Baath Party. Every other institution in Iraq ceased to function since the economy was largely run by the state. Even though most of the Iraq’s armed forces had already left, very minimal effort was made to at least recall the officers or soldiers. Hundred of thousand of individuals who were members of a regime that had ruled for thirty five years suddenly lost their jobs with only two strokes of a pen within a period of less than a week.

These decisions however did not cause the insurgency even though the Sunnis did not pose much of a problem within the first few months of occupation to the United States as much as the Shiite. However, these decisions discontent among the Sunnis who were now stripped of their jobs but had plenty of guns. Particularly, his decisions motivated the dysfunction and chaos that were increasingly rising in the country. Most of the Iraqis expected that the Americans will transform Iraq into a modern state and this could have been the reason why the Iraqis did not fight back. However, they were shocked to realize that they were being taken a hundred years back.

The American occupation seems to be focused on rewarding the secessionists than gaining success on the ground. Garner had been issued with instructions that he exhibit friendship towards the exiled Iraqi leader, Ahmad Chalabi, who seem to be a favorite of the Pentagon. Even when uniquely qualified, State Department officials were not allowed to hold high positions in Baghdad. There was a lot of favoritism. Local Iraqis were left out in major things which would have been wise had they been included.

The proof of the errors committed by the Americans as of 2004 May was the beginning of Washington to reverse the course wholesale. The withdrawal of troops was postponed and the decision to conduct caucuses and delay elections shelved. The governing council which was entirely appointed by America was abolished and the United Nations asked to institute a new body. The violence which has continued in the Sunni area has blinded the Americans to the reality of what is happening in Iraq. The mistakes made by America led Washington to hand over power hastily and without adequate planning to those Iraqis who were organized and ready for it. These were the Shiite and Kurds religious parties. Currently, Iraq is fragmented into three different lands even though it is still a single country. The Kurds run some form of a one party democracy in the north. Even though there is some degree of stability in the south, Shiite religious groups have imposed their rule in several places in most cases with their militias.

Even though the conditions in Iraq are much better as compared to what it was during the reign of Saddam, it has fell short of the expectations that most individuals had perceived. It exhibits some progressive elements that are lacking in most of the Arab states and absolute power can be checked and balanced by the federal structure and a divided rule. A positive impact has also been realized from the elections, negotiations and debates. It is not however a model inspiration in the Middle East. However, the costs have been exceedingly high for both the United States and Iraq. However, the inevitability and feasibility of the project is in question.

As was noted by the International Crisis Group, the failure or success of post war transition in Iraq is dependent upon the comprehension of domestic realities and dynamisms which leads to accurate translation of the form of government acceptable to all Iraqis. The United States failed in this endeavor owing to the rashness of their plans and policy implementation. The responsibility of the international body was to scrutinize competing claims to influence and power and to ascertain a level playing field by not showing any favoritism to any faction. The United States, in order to safeguard its interests, characterized its operations with utter favoritism and this is evidenced by the instructions that Washington gave to its chief operations officers with regard to an exiled leader.

The main objective was to set up a United Nations transitional authority with complete legislative and executive powers. However, the United Nations Secretariat was reluctant to take up an extensive responsibility with the United States not determined to give it up. The established authority was to use the local professionals and civil servants to the maximum extent possible, as well as those Iraqis in the diaspora to achieve a pluralistic, stable and democratic country which could be governed. The authority, endorsed by the United Nations Security Council as a multinational force, was to operate alongside the United States led security presence. Iraq was transformed into a social make up by thirty years of Baathist rule and a twelve year international sanction.

One of the points of contentions was whoever was to assume authority in Iraq once the hostilities end. The first option which was has been heavily criticized by both the international and the Iraqi opposition was the assumption of full authority by the United States. Many policy makers in the United States contend that if Washington was to assume authority, there is a great risk of sidelining the locals which may expose the United States to accusations of nurturing imperial designs besides lessening its position in the Middle East. Another alternative that received more support was based on the establishment of an interim Iraqi authority. Within this design, the United States will transfer power to the Iraqis and govern jointly. Once the political conditions are conducive, the interim authority would surrender to a permanent Iraqi authority. This proposal also suffers from defects. The basic problem is that the international community or the United States has no person in mind that they can handpick to run the interim authority. The socio-political dynamisms in Iraq are not exhaustively understood owing to their complexity and very little is known of what the Iraqis living in the country prefer or aspire to achieve.

Members of the exiled opposition which Washington so much prefer have presented their claim but their knowledge of the actual preferences and aspirations of the Iraqi people is in doubt owing to the limited contact they have maintained with the country. As such, the degree upon which they can be genuinely representative is questionable. Within Iraq, different factions which include business elites, religious institutions and tribes are also bound to come forward and claim privileged status. They are however likely to play fiddle to those individuals who became prominent during the years of Saddam. As such, prematurely picking a winner is disastrous. Under either of the two conditions, the majority of the population that comprises Iraq will be left out of most of the government functioning.

Owing to the war in Iraq, the United States is constantly faced with the task of defending the war. This is not only on the realm of the immediate security needs but also in the type of Iraq that it is going to live on its wake. In order for any war waged under the gist of self defense to be successful, there is need to address the imminent threat. With this regard, there is a general agreement among policy makers that only post conflict transition will measure success, not military campaign. However, the evidence that is before the world is that the problems that the United States forces are experiencing together with the Iraqi people are much more than what had been anticipated.

With the war in its sixth year, there is still no realistic plan by the United States administration for Iraq and the Middle East. This pushes further the question of the rationale of the war. One major task for the United States is that must reclaim control of its major national security interests through taking active measures aimed at stabilizing the entire middle East. This active measure should not in any way exclude the Interests of the Iraqi people as their condition is paramount to stability in the Middle East. For any new political system to be built, comprehending the structures, mechanics and dynamisms of Baathist Iraq is necessary. As much as the United States troops were welcomed by the Iraqis, it was only the first superficial encounter with a complex society.

As might have not been expected before, the end of Saddam Hussein regime or the Baathist regime unleashed various social, economic and institutional forces that seem to be uncontrollable and this has elicited various reactions to the people of the United States. The social groups that had sustained the Baathist philosophy for more than three decades have not collapsed with the regime and as such, have an integral position when it comes to rearranging the political institutions of Iraq. The United States seem to have ignored this important fact and this is evidenced by the course taken by Bremer in his attempt to overhaul the entire Baathist system.

Baathist polity will always remain an important part in the Iraqi structure, influencing and supporting the new arrangements whenever they feel that these new arrangements can benefit them in some way. If they do not benefit, then they are most likely to undermine them.

A major issue with regard to success in the reconstruction of Iraq is the attitude of the different factions when it comes to building a more democratic and stable nation. The leader in Iraq is at odds with regard to the position of the country, the mode of power distribution and control of the country’s oil wealth. In order for the United States to advance its own national security interest, this new reality of fragmentation of Iraq should be taken into account and the response should be the diversification of the United States military, development and diplomatic presence in the Middle East and Iraq. The United States has the responsibility of finishing what it had started. The end will justify the means. It is still early to comment on the success of the project for the American people are experiencing the consequences of the war up to the nerves of the economy. The problem was that the concerned individuals tasked with the responsibility of creating a more democratic, pluralistic and stable Iraq rushed in their plan and did not consider the hidden realities which had to accompany the operation.

The United States has the responsibility of redeploying its troops from Iraq as a gesture of not intending to permanently maintain military bases in Iraq. The best chance of revitalizing its ground forces for other operations is offered to the United States with a swift strategic redeployment from Iraq. As such, in order to save the situation in Iraq, the United States has an option of redeploying its troops from Iraq and ensuring that a strong government is instituted which has a focus on the Middle East Stability.


George Packer. (2005) The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq.

International Crisis Group. (2003) War In Iraq: Political Challenges After the Conflict. Middle East Report No. 11.

Larry Diamond. (2005) Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy in Iraq.

Linda Robinson. (2008) Tell Me How This Ends: General David Petraeus and the Search for a Way Out of Iraq. Westview Press.

Paul Bremer. (2006). My Year in Iraq. Canada: Simon and Schuster.

Rajiv Chandarsekaran. (2007) Imperial Life in Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green zone. Random House Inc.

Richard Marx (2006) The War In Iraq: Challenge of the Bush Administration. Brendon Publishers.

Ron Suskind. (2007) The One percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America’s Pursuit of its Enemies Since 9/11.

Seymour M. Hersh. (2004) Chain of Command: How the Department of Defense Mishandled the Disaster at Abu Ghraib. The New Yorker.

Thomas Ricks. (2006) Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq.

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