Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

U.S.-led occupation of Iraq

The occupation of Iraq led by the government and military of the United States, with significant support from the United Kingdom and varying levels of assistance from various other allied countries, followed the collapse of Saddam Hussein's government caused by the 2003 invasion of Iraq. United States military and civilian officials, as well as some British officials, began the process of securing Iraq's infrastructure and rebuilding its governmental structures.

Central authority for the occupation was given to the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. From April to May of 2003 the ORHA was led by General Jay Garner. He was later replaced by U.S. civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer.

Some powers are being shared with an appointed Interim Iraq Governing Council. See that page for more details.

A serious shortcoming of the occupation to date has been the slowness in which basic services such as water, electricity, and sanitation are being restored. This has engendered widespread resentment among the civilian population.

Table of contents
1 Law and order problems
2 U.S. occupation
3 Civilian government
4 Resistance to the occupation
5 See also
6 External links and references
7 Related Amnesty International links

Law and order problems

In the initial period of the occupation, there were particularly widespread law and order problems, including heavy looting, notably at the National Museum of Iraq, nuclear sites, and other facilities. This followed the collapse of the Saddam government and the disappearance of much of the traditional security infrastructure, which the occupying forces had been relying on to carry out most of the necessary policework.

U.S. occupation

Prior to the invasion, the U.S. promised a speedy transition to a democratic government, and the initial outline included the creation of an Iraqi constitution and the active role of Iraqis in the process of establishing a new government as well as in the interim authority. United States officials public pronouncements have emphasized that the US invasion was not about occupation, but about liberation. From before the invasion until mid-May 2003, U.S. officials emphasized that an Iraqi-led government would be established "as soon as possible". However, this commitment atrophied in the following months.

In November 2003 U.S. officials announced the plan to turn political authority to the Iraqi governing council with the expectation that a constitution would then be drawn up. The United States has stated its plans to maintain military authority, although a New Iraqi Army is in the process of being established.

The US-led Coalition Provisional Authority has, for administrative purposes, divided Iraq into three security zones: a northern zone in the Mosul - Kirkuk region, a central zone in the Baghdad - Tikrit region and a southern zone in the Basra - Nasiriya region. The northern and central zones are garrisoned by US troops, while the southern zone is garrisoned by Polish troops (around Nasiriya) and British troops (around Basra). [1]

Civilian government

The establishment of a new civilian government of Iraq was greatly complicated by the religious divisions between the majority Shi'ite population and the formerly ruling Sunni class. Moreover, all the people in Saddam's ruling Ba'ath Party were tainted by the association. Also, in northern Iraq, Kurds had already had effectively autonomous rule for 12 years under the protection of the no-fly zone.

On May 16, 2003, U.S. officials abandoned the plan to cede authority to a democratically chosen interim civilian Iraqi government (similar to what had happened in Afghanistan following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan) and presented a resolution to the U.N. to give the United States and Britain broad power and lift economic sanctions on Iraq, allowing the occupying countries authority to use oil resources to pay for rebuilding the country. The resolution would allow them to appoint an interim government by themselves.

United Nations Resolution

On May 22, 2003, the UN Security Council voted 14-0 to give the United States and Britain the power to govern Iraq and use its oil resources to rebuild the country. Resolution 1483 removed nearly 13 years of economic sanctions originally imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The resolution allows U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to appoint a special representative to work with U.S. and British administrators on reconstruction, humanitarian aid, and the creation of a new government. The resolution created a new Development Fund for Iraq, which will collect funds from oil sales. The fund will be run by the United States and Britain to rebuild the country, and it will be overseen by a new advisory body composed of the United Nations and international financial institutions. It will begin its existence with a $1 billion deposit, funds transferred from the United Nation's oil-for-food account. The oil-for-food program will be phased out over a six month period. The resolution requires a one-year review, a step sought by both Germany and France. Syria, which was the sole Arab state represented on the council, was absent from the meeting.


For several months the United States maintained that it intended to convene a constitutional convention, composed of influential Iraqis. The deadline for this convention was pushed back further and further by the U.S. interim authority until it was suspended indefinitely.

Though the U.S. government maintains that it intends to eventually hold elections in Iraq, currently local and regional positions (e.g. mayors, governors) are being chosen from a select group of individuals (including ex-Ba'ath party officials) in an attempt to avoid the election of people opposed to the American and British presence, including religous clerics and other officials who are considered to be overly radical or dangerous.

In fairness, it should be pointed out that in its ideal form democracy requires a civil society to function effectively and hold honest elections. Saddam's rule effectively destroyed civil society, except in the autonomous Kurdish areas. It therefore would be a technically difficult, though not impossible, proposition to hold an election at this time or even in the near future. Civil society at a local level shows signs of recovery in some areas of Iraq, however, much to American disquiet it largely seems to be based around the Mosque.

On November 15, the Iraqi Governing Council, announced that a transitional government would take over in June from the U.S.-led powers, and that an elected government would follow by the end of 2005 once a constitution had been drafted and ratified. The transitional government would be selected in June 2004 by a transitional council selection by the United States in May 2004.

The interim council revealed the timetable after the United States Government, in reaction to significant terrorist and insurgent activity against occupying troops and also aid organisations, abandoned its earlier plan that a sovereign government would take charge only after creating a constitution and elections held. Jalal Talabani, current chairman of the council, said the transition would involve "the creation of a permanent constitution by an elected council, directly elected by the people, and also the election of a new government according to the articles of this new constitution before the end of 2005."

Resistance to the occupation

The occupation was resisted from forces inside Iraq. In the initial months of the occupation, dozens of Iraqis were shot in anti-American demonstrations, mostly in the nation's Shi'a Muslim parts. Ayatollah Sayed Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, who returned to Iraq after decades in exile shortly after the occupation began, said: "We are not afraid of the British or American troops. This country wants to keep its sovereignty and the forces of the coalition must leave it."

In the months following the start of the occupation, American and British deaths averaged one a day, in sniper attacks, suicide bombings at road checkpoints and ambushes. Some attacks against occupying troops seem prompted by motivations of revenge (e.g. when six British soldiers were killed by angry Iraqis after they shot four demonstrators at a protest).

As the summer of 2003 gave way to autumn, the pattern of anti-occupation attacks shifted to include repeated, deadly suicide car bombings against high-profile targets in Baghdad, such as the headquarters of the U.N. and the Red Cross, foreign embassies, and police stations of the newly-formed post-Saddam Iraqi police force. At the same time, attacks on individual U.S. soldiers and vehicles, often in the form of buried roadside bombs, went on. Though journalists reported that many residents of the Iraqi capital deplored the violence and appreciated coalition efforts to bring stability, it was clear by autumn that there were groups present in the country determined to continue violent resistance. How much these groups might be directed by Saddam Hussein or diehard Ba'ath Party members, and how much by non-Iraqi Islamic extremists such as al Qaeda, was difficult to know from media reports and official statements.

Some media reports have reported that Saddam loyalists and al Qaeda (or linked organisations) have entered into an unholy alliance, whereby the secularist Saddamists supply the weapons and al Qaeda provides the fanatical personnel. Although Saddam supported terrorist groups, reports that he had ties to al Qaeda are, as of yet, unconfirmed; see Iraq and the War on Terrorism. By occupying Iraq the US has created a new frontline, and may possibly have allied together two violently opposed organisations. It is not clear whether this was an intended or unintended consequence.

Resistance to the occupation is particularly virulent in the Sunni centre of Iraq, which was the source of Saddam's power base. British troops have had a much easier time policing the Shi'a south; though this may also have something to do with their far greater experience at policing civilian areas gained in Northern Ireland and elsewhere.

Guerrilla war

In late June of 2003 there was some public debate in the U. S. as to whether the resistance could be characterized as a guerrilla war.

On June 17th, Army Gen. John P. Abizaid said that forces in Iraq were "conducting what I would describe as a classical guerrilla-type campaign against us. It's low-intensity conflict in our doctrinal terms, but it's war however you describe it." In a statement to Congress on June 18th, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said "There's a guerrilla war there but we can win it."

However, U. S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, on June 31st, refused to accept the characterization of the situation in Iraq as a "guerrilla war" and blamed resistance on five groups:

Foreign terrorists
Iranian-backed Shi'a radicals.
Supporters of the former Saddam Hussein regime

"That doesn't make it anything like a guerrilla war or an organized resistance," Rumsfeld said. "It makes it like five different things going on [in which the groups] are functioning more like terrorists."


Sabotage of water and oil pipelines is part of the resistance of the Iraqi militantss. The United States had intended to quickly rebuild Iraqi social infrastructure and oil infrastructure for production back to pre-war levels, but destruction of pipelines crippled this initiative.

The northern oil pipeline to Turkey fell to sabatoge, when it was destroyed immediately following the U.S. announcement of the intent to ship oil out via that route, and on June 23 a major pipe junction leading to Syria and Lebanon was destroyed. Together these attacks crippled much of the ability to transport northern Iraqi oil. In the south an attack on June 22 destroyed the main oil pipeline leading from southern oil fields to the Baghdad oil refineries. In addition widespread looting, which contractors believe to be systematic and intended as sabotage, has crippled the attempt to bring production in the supergiant Rumaila oil field back up to speed.

Some of the groups that have claimed responsibility for attacks on the coalition occupying forces and sabotage include the "Iraqi National Front of Fedayeen", "The Snake Party", and "The Return". For more information, see Iraqi resistance.

See also

External links and references

Related Amnesty International links