Coalition Provisional Authority: March 2004 Reconstruction of Iraq Memo

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Jason Vest, senior correspondent for the American Prospect writes on April 20, 2004, that an early March 2004 Reconstruction of Iraq Memo "written to a superior in Baghdad and circulated among other CPA officials" has leaked from within the Coalition Provisional Authority.

According to the memo, "Iraq's chances of seeing democracy succeed, according to the memo's author--a U.S. government official detailed to the CPA, who wrote this summation of observations he'd made in the field for a senior CPA director--have been severely imperiled by a year's worth of serious errors on the part of the Pentagon and the CPA, the U.S.-led multinational agency administering Iraq. Far from facilitating democracy and security, the memo's author fears, U.S. efforts have created an environment rife with corruption and sectarianism likely to result in civil war. [1]

"Provided to [Vest] by a Western intelligence official, the memo was partially redacted to protect the writer's identity and to 'avoid inflaming an already volatile situation' by revealing the names of certain Iraqi figures. A wide-ranging and often acerbic critique of the CPA, covering topics ranging from policy, personalities, and press operations to on-the-ground realities such as electricity, the document is not only notable for its candidly troubled assessment of Iraq's future. It is also significant, according to the intelligence official, because its author has been a steadfast advocate of 'transforming' the Middle East, beginning with 'regime change' in Iraq." [2]

Although the memo's author continues to support the "U.S. invasion and occupation", "praises Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi ... a long-time favorite of Washington hawks", and "asserts that 'what we have accomplished in Iraq is worth it'", ... "the memo is gloomy in most other respects, portraying a country mired in dysfunction and corruption, overseen by a CPA that 'handle(s) an issue like six-year-olds play soccer: Someone kicks the ball and one hundred people chase after it hoping to be noticed, without a care as to what happens on the field.' [and] is particularly pointed on the subject of cronyism and corruption within the Iraqi Governing Council." [3]

"In the broadest sense," Vest writes, "according to the memo's author, the CPA's bunker-in-Baghdad mentality has contributed to the potential for civil war all over the country. ... The memo goes on to argue that 'the trigger for a civil war' is not likely to be an isolated incident of violence, but the result of 'deeper conflicts that revolve around patronage and absolutism' reaching a flashpoint." [4]

"By and large," Vest comments, "the March memo validates many points raised by career military, diplomatic, and intelligence officers before the war. For them, lack of planning for post-war stabilization was a primary matter of deep concern, which cannot be said for the Bush administration's hawkish advocates of 'regime change'." [5]

Read the remainder of Vest's article here.

Memo Author

In "Speak Memoer" for the April 27, 2004, Washington Post, Richard Leiby writes:

"Who is the important Iraqi official described as a 'happy drunk'? Who is the Kurdish politician who seems to be acting out a part in The Godfather?"
"While the names of certain Iraqi figures and the memo's recipent were redacted, the missing name that prompted the most speculation was that of the author. Three sources say the critique was written by Michael Rubin, a thirty-something neocon intellectual who promptly became a scholar at the hawkish American Enterprise Institute after returning to Washington. 'The sky is not falling' in Iraq, he wrote early this month for National Review Online.
"In his articles and biography, Rubin says he served as a CPA political officer for nine months and previously worked on Iraq and Iran issues while on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's staff. National Review Online describes Rubin as the only CPA political officer in Baghdad 'who lived outside the American security bubble.' The memo, which mentions continuing electrical outages and 'frequent explosions, many of which are not reported in the mainstream media,' faults U.S. officials for their isolation from ordinary Iraqis.
"Rubin wouldn't confirm or deny that he wrote the memo. Last week he told an AEI spokeswoman he didn't want to talk about it, and he didn't return our call yesterday," Leiby writes.

Text of the Redacted Memo

Comments on the Memo

  • On April 19, 2004, Editor & Publisher headlined with "AAN Promises Important Iraq Story Tomorrow." [6]
The promised "bombshell", an article "related to the Iraq conflict", was made "available free of charge for publication on all AAN-member Web sites, as well as for print, and more than 60 members papers have expressed interest in using it, according to Executive Director Richard Karpel.
"The 3,000-word story, embargoed until Tuesday but obtained by E&P today, is based on a 'closely held' memo purportedly written by a U.S. government official detailed to the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). It was provided to writer Jason Vest by 'a Western intelligence official.' The memo offers a candid assessment of Iraq's bleak future -- as a country trapped in corruption and dysfunction -- and portrays a CPA cut off from the Iraqi people after a 'year's worth of serious errors.'
"The article is titled, 'Fables of Reconstruction,' with a subhed, 'A Coalition memo reveals that even true believers see the seeds of civil war in the occupation of Iraq.'
"Karpel commented, 'We have no question that the memo is authentic.'"
  • Tim Dunlop at Road to Surfdom writes on April 20, 2004: "So who wrote the memo cited in the Jason Vest article ... Remember the clues: 'a US government official detailed to the CPA, who wrote this summation of field reporting for a senior CPA director...its author, a man, has been a steadfast advocate of transforming the Middle East, beginning with regime change in Iraq.'
"Well, you've got to be thinking a neo-conservative, therefore probably inside the Pentagon. Paul Wolfowitz was in Iraq in February and the article says the memo was written in early March, but Wolfie is probably too high up the pecking order. It could also be one of Rumsfeld's famous 'frank' memos.
Dunlop reports that "One reader makes the following suggestion and this sounds more like it: someone from a sympathetic think tank, the sort of person often seconded by officialdom for this sort of excercise. This leads us to this guy, Michael Rubin from the American Enterprise Institute. At the very least, it isn't a bad guess."
Dunlop states that "The reason the memo is important is that it was written by someone on the inside who is an avid hawk, a real champion of the invasion and the whole 'change the region' strategy (fantasy) of the Bush administration. So apart from the content of the piece, it [of course] becomes an intriguing little problem to think who might have written it." [7]
  • On April 20, 2004, Christopher Allbritton at says that the memo "shows that true believers are deeply worried about the future of Iraq and fear the spectre of civil war", "illustrates that the wide-spread impression that American foreign policy is coming apart at the seams in Iraq is likely true, despite the rosy proclamations", and indicates that the "violence of April may be the new norm instead of an exception."
  • BuzzFlash has labelled this the "Three Alarm Truth Memo."

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