Envoy’s Letter Counters Bush on
Dismantling of Iraq Army
By EDMUND L. ANDREWS
Published: September 4, 2007
WASHINGTON, Sept. 3 — A previously undisclosed
exchange of letters shows that President Bush was
told in advance by his top Iraq envoy in May 2003 of
a plan to “dissolve Saddam’s military and
intelligence structures,” a plan that the envoy, L.
Paul Bremer, said referred to dismantling the Iraqi
Mr. Bremer provided the letters to The New York
Times on Monday after reading that Mr. Bush was
quoted in a new book as saying that American policy
had been “to keep the army intact” but that it
The dismantling of the Iraqi Army in the aftermath
of the American invasion is now widely regarded as a
mistake that stoked rebellion among hundreds of
thousands of former Iraqi soldiers and made it more
difficult to reduce sectarian bloodshed and attacks
by insurgents. In releasing the letters, Mr. Bremer
said he wanted to refute the suggestion in Mr.
Bush’s comment that Mr. Bremer had acted to disband
the army without the knowledge and concurrence of
the White House.
“We must make it clear to everyone that we mean
business: that Saddam and the Baathists are
finished,” Mr. Bremer wrote in a letter that was
drafted on May 20, 2003, and sent to the president
on May 22 through Donald H. Rumsfeld, then secretary
After recounting American efforts to remove members
of the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein from civilian
agencies, Mr. Bremer told Mr. Bush that he would
“parallel this step with an even more robust
measure” to dismantle the Iraq military.
One day later, Mr. Bush wrote back a short thank you
letter. “Your leadership is apparent,” the president
wrote. “You have quickly made a positive and
significant impact. You have my full support and
On the same day, Mr. Bremer, in Baghdad, had issued
the order disbanding the Iraqi military. Mr. Bush
did not mention the order to abolish the military,
and the letters do not show that he approved the
order or even knew much about it. Mr. Bremer
referred only fleetingly to his plan midway through
his three-page letter and offered no details.
In an interview with Robert Draper, author of the
new book, “Dead Certain,” Mr. Bush sounded as if he
had been taken aback by the decision, or at least by
the need to abandon the original plan to keep the
“The policy had been to keep the army intact; didn’t
happen,” Mr. Bush told the interviewer. When Mr.
Draper asked the president how he had reacted when
he learned that the policy was being reversed, Mr.
Bush replied, “Yeah, I can’t remember, I’m sure I
said, “This is the policy, what happened?’ ”
Mr. Bremer indicated that he had been smoldering for
months as other administration officials had
distanced themselves from his order. “This didn’t
just pop out of my head,” he said in a telephone
interview on Monday, adding that he had sent a draft
of the order to top Pentagon officials and discussed
it “several times” with Mr. Rumsfeld.
A White House official, who spoke on the condition
of anonymity because the White House is not
commenting on Mr. Draper’s book, said Mr. Bush
indeed understood the order and was acknowledging in
the interview with Mr. Draper that the original plan
had proved unworkable.
“The plan was to keep the Iraqi Army intact, and
that’s accurate,” the official said. “But by the
time Jerry Bremer announced the order, it was fairly
clear that the Iraqi Army could not be
reconstituted, and the president understood that. He
was acknowledging that that was something that did
not go as planned.”
But the letters, combined with Mr. Bush’s comments,
suggest confusion within the administration about
what quickly proved to be a decision with explosive
Indeed, Mr. Bremer’s letter to Mr. Bush is striking
in its almost nonchalant reference to a major
decision that a number of American military
officials in Iraq strongly opposed. Some senior
administration officials, including the secretary of
state at the time, Colin L. Powell, have reportedly
said subsequently that they did not know about the
decision ahead of time.
Gen. Peter Pace, then the vice chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, said at a meeting of the Council on
Foreign Relations in February 2004 that the decision
to disband the Iraqi Army was made without the input
of the joint chiefs. “We were not asked for a
recommendation or for advice,” he said.
The reference from Mr. Bremer’s note to Mr. Bush is
limited to one sentence at the end of a lengthy
paragraph in a three-page letter. The letter devoted
much more space to recounting what Mr. Bremer
described as “an almost universal expression of
thanks” from the Iraqi people “to the U.S. and to
you in particular for freeing Iraq from Saddam’s
tyranny.” It went on to recall how Mr. Bremer had
been kissed by an old Iraqi man who was under the
impression that Mr. Bremer was Mr. Bush. In his 2006
memoir, Mr. Bremer said he had briefed senior
officials in Washington on the plan, but he did not
mention the exchange of letters with Mr. Bush.
On Monday, Mr. Bremer made it clear that he was
unhappy about being portrayed as a renegade of sorts
by a variety of former administration officials.
Mr. Bremer said he sent a draft of the proposed
order on May 9, shortly before he departed for his
new post in Baghdad, to Mr. Rumsfeld and other top
Among others who received the draft order, he said,
were Paul D. Wolfowitz, then the deputy secretary of
defense; Douglas J. Feith, then under secretary of
defense for policy; Lt. Gen. David D. McKiernan,
then head of the American-led coalition forces in
Iraq; and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Mr. Bremer said that he had briefed Mr. Rumsfeld on
the plan “several times,” and that his top security
adviser in Baghdad, Walter B. Slocombe, had
discussed it in detail with senior Pentagon
officials as well as with senior British military
officials. He said he received detailed comments
back from the joint chiefs, leaving no doubt in his
mind that they understood the plan.
“I might add that it was not a controversial
decision,” Mr. Bremer said. “The Iraqi Army had
disappeared and the only question was whether you
were going to recall the army. Recalling the army
would have had very practical difficulties, and it
would have political consequences. The army had been
the main instrument of repression under Saddam
Hussein. I would go on to argue that it was the
right decision. I’m not second-guessing it.”
General McKiernan reportedly felt unhappy with Mr.
Bremer’s plan to slowly build a new Iraqi Army from
scratch, as were other American officers. In his
farewell meeting with Mr. Bremer in June 2003, he
urged him to “go bigger and faster” in fielding a
Michael R. Gordon contributed reporting.