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Chronological look at the fiasco in Iraq, especially decisions made in the spring of 2003 - and the backgrounds of those making decisions - immediately following the overthrow of Saddam: no occupation plan, an inadequate team to run the country, insufficient troops to keep order, and three edicts from the White House announced by Bremmer when he took over: no provisional Iraqi government, de-Ba'athification, and disbanding the Iraqi armed services. The film has chapters (from History to Consequences), and the talking heads are reporters, academics, soldiers, military brass, and former Bush-administration officials, including several who were in Baghdad in 2003.Written by
It would be nice to think the terrible debacle of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq of 2003 somehow just happened. That it was just a mistake to go there. That things just went wrong. But as this excellent new documentary shows, things went wrong for reasonsbecause of how the war was planned and executed.
Or how it wasn't planned. How ultimately completely unqualified people were left in charge. Here are some of the mistakes that No End in Sight elucidates for us:
1. Nobody knew anything. Out of a basic US cadre of roughly 130 people first sent in to run things, only 5 knew Arabic. Nobody knew from factions. What a Shiite and a Sunni and a Kurd were they found out later. Instead of realizing what leaders would emerge (such as the most popular man in Iraq now, Muqtada Sadr), the neo-cons sent in Ahmed Chalabi, a corrupt exile without credibility or authority, believing he would be the new leader. They didn't know how many troops were required to maintain order, and Rumsfeld, trying to prove a cockeyed theory he had no knowledge to support, chose too few. (Then Army Chief of Staf General Eric Shinseki had pointed this out to the Senate before the war even began.)
2. Nobody, neither Americans nor Iraqis, was designated to maintain order. Chaos reigned. "Stuff happens," said Rumsfeld. No: "stuff" doesn't just happen: it's allowed to happen. As Seth Moulton, a young Marine officer who is one of Ferguson's voices says, "We were Marines. We could have stopped looting." But they were not directed to do so. The troops, already too few, just stood around and watched as Baghdad was torn apart, the national library burned, the national museum looted. All the ministry buildings were dismantled and lootedtellingly, only the Ministry of Petroleum was guarded. Baghdad's water and electricity fell apart, and links with the rest of the country turned into wild and dangerous interzones. Most important of all for the maintenance of order, large caches of arms were unknown to US troopsand insurgents pillaged them.
Iraq was lost in the first week of the occupation. But worse was yet to come. And worse. And worse. A key moment was the replacement of ORHA, The Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), headed by Jay Garner, which was not allowed to protect any of its sites, by the CPA, the Coalition Provisional Authority, headed by the arrogant Paul Bremer.
3. This is when the US destroyed the country's human infrastructure, and in so doing sowed the seeds of insurgency and civil war. The occupation fired the entire Iraqi standing army, half a million officers and men alike, and dismissed and barred from work 50,000 "Baathist" government officials and employees. Rendering all these people unemployed dealt a huge economic blow to the country in itself. But far worse than that, it led to permanent conflictultimately to civil war. It created many enemies, and it left no one to work with. At this point the goodwill the Americans had won by toppling the despotic regime of Saddam Hussein was lost. The violence and lawlessness that had been allowed to proceed unchecked began to become organized. Began to have a cause.
4. Many of the Americans sent in to help with occupation and reconstruction had nothing to work with. Ambassador Barbara Bodine (in charge of Baghdad in spring 2003) arrived to find offices supplied to her and her staff that were empty rooms with no computers, not even telephones. But as she says on screen, it didn't matter because they had no phone listsand no one to call.
Nir Rosen is one of the most knowledgeable and independent American journalists in Iraq and a producer and talking head of this film. As he has recently said, Iraq today, four and a half years later, is a region of city-states, a source of instability to the whole area, to Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, Iran, even perhaps to Egypt. Pacifying and controlling Baghdad no longer means anything because Baghdad doesn't control the countryif you can call it a country. The US forces are just another militia, the most hated but not the most effective.
First-time director Charles Ferguson gives us the various figures, the cold facts, the cost, the numbers of dead and wounded. But what most matters is what people have to say, and Ferguson has assembled some key talking heads. These include former Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Ambassador Bodine, Colin Powell's former chief of staff Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Col. James Hodges, soon-replaced Iraq viceroy Jay Garner (who like others strenuously objected to the dismissal of the army and the debathification, but was ignored by his replacement, Paul Bremer), Bremer adviser Walter Slocombe, frustrated ORHA functionary Paul Hughes, and other diplomats, journalists, officers, and enlisted personnel who were there in Iraq after the invasion.
Ferguson has a doctorate from MIT, where he has taught; is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institution (he's an insider!); and has authored three books on information technology. His approach is analytical. The basic problem was that the usual suspectsBush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, & Co.had spent virtually no time on planning the aftermath of "Shock and Awe"--the occupation. It was all planned, skimpily, at the last minute, deliberately ignoring all the experts' advice.
No End in Sight is not so much an indictment or a polemic or a proposal as a post-mortem. Its aim is to lay out the whole devolution process that took place under US control of Iraq. Never mind the run-up to the war, the justifications, the aims. Here is the story that shows the situation might have been handled better. Things are much worse.
We get to see a lot of political documentaries now so we have learned to judge them. This is a very fine oneand for Americans an essential one.
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