Not long into its existence, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the U.S.-led civilian authority governing Iraq, April 2003-June 2004, became a political lightning rod. Journalists reported malfeasance, real and imagined. Former employees—CPA administrator L. Paul Bremer among them—penned accounts of their time in the CPA. The omissions in these accounts highlighted the CPA dysfunctions more than broadcast its successes. Few writers moved beyond newspaper accounts to check the statements of self-serving officials against the documentary record.
Now a team of researchers at RAND has accessed a trove of internal CPA e-mails and documents to examine the CPA and its fourteen months overseeing Iraq. Separate chapters explore the origins of the CPA, its staffing, the creation of Iraq's Governing Council, establishing security, governing, promoting the rule of law, growing the economy, running the CPA, promoting democracy, and disarming militias.
Details regarding the CPA's actions remove the organization from often cartoonish depictions in earlier works and illustrate the complexity of decisions and day-to-day activities such as reforming banks, establishing a new currency, jump-starting a health care sector hitherto limited by sanctions, and handling detainees.
While many CPA employees—this reviewer not among them—edited drafts of this book, Occupying Iraq does not whitewash the CPA's problems or its policies. Rather, it sheds light and provides insider comment on its more controversial actions—the disbanding of the Iraqi army and de-Baathification, for example. However, it would appear that the jockeying between the State and Defense departments that hampered prewar planning continues to have influence on the writing of this book. For example, lead author Dobbins' statement that discussion of de-Baathification had occurred in the Pentagon but had not been addressed in the National Security Council is false, as the minutes of any number of National Security Council meetings and State Department and CIA memos would show.
As its editors note, classified CPA documents and the internal paperwork of the U.S. military's Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF-7) are still necessary before a complete review of the occupation is possible. Nevertheless, Occupying Iraq is a serious work and a must-read that pushes discussion of the CPA forward.