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September 18, 2005

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Post-Conquest Civil Affairs: Comparing War’s End in Iraq and in Germany

Correlli Barnett

Executive Summary

The paper contrasts the success of Allied military government in Germany in 1945-6 in tackling the human and material problems of a country whose industry and infrastructure had been comprehensively wrecked by strategic bombing and land battles, with the relative failure of the Americans in Iraq in 2003-4 after taking over a country little damaged by war itself.

In particular, the paper contrasts the swift and successful establishment of the basic necessity, law and order, in Germany with the still-continuing widespread violence and insecurity in Iraq today. In seeking an explanation for these contrasts, the paper points out that in Germany the occupiers and the occupied alike shared a common European history, culture, and religion. In Iraq the American conquest signified the forcible intrusion of Western power and culture into an Arab Islamic country with its own proud cultural and religious history – a fundamental handicap to the occupier, though one unappreciated beforehand in Washington.

The handicap was worsened by the pre-war American neglect of thorough planning and preparation for the post-war governance of Iraq. Outline policy was not discussed before August 2002, and an executive agency (‘the Office of Economic Reconstruction and Humanitarian Aid’) was only created on 20 January 2003, a mere two months before the planned launch of the war.

In contrast, during the Second World War the British General Staff set up a new branch to study the question of civil-affairs in occupied countries as early as in March 1941 (four years before the eventual end of the war in Europe). By 1943 its work had been taken over by a top-level interdepartmental committee, with overall policy in the hands of a committee of the War Cabinet itself, with special reference to North-west Europe.

Thanks to such thoroughness, solutions had been devised in regard to practical problems of liaison between civil-affairs teams and military units in the field, and between those teams and German local government. Meanwhile, civil-affairs personnel were being batch-trained in special centres. ‘Public Safety Officers’ were being recruited from Britain’s police forces. As a result of such preparation, civil-affairs (now dubbed ‘military government’) teams moved into German towns in 1945 along with the leading troops, occupied local government offices, and swiftly established their authority. Novacuum of anarchy ensued as in Iraq in 2003.

The establishment of military government in Germany was backed by the ubiquitous presence of a mass army, whereas in Iraq the ‘light’ hi-tech American army proved far too small for the comparable task. Before and after 1945, the Allies accepted that the occupation of Germany would continue sine die in order to prevent any revival of Nazism and ensure the creation of a stable German democracy. In the event, Allied forces still remain on German soil 60 years after the end of the Second World War, just as American forces still remain today on Japanese soil. Politically, it took four years after 1945 to create the self-governing Federal Republic of Germany, even in the special conditions of the Cold War.

These historical lessons, as well as those of Bosnia and Kosovo in the late 1990s, were ignored by Washington when in 2002-3 it assumed that, after the conquest of Iraq, ‘democracy’ would be swiftly ushered in, and the American occupation forces just as swiftly reduced.

Lessons for the Future

a. Post-war ‘civil affairs’ is a vital part of invasion strategy, and requires as much careful preparation as military operations.
b. The military strength allotted to an invasion must be adequate not merely to defeat the enemy in battle, but also to ensure law and order afterwards.

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