For the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) perspective, see the archived CPA website, including order 1, De-Ba`athification of Iraqi Society, 16MAY03, and the 2004 insight, 2005 insight, 2006 insight, and 2011 insight from CPA senior adviser Dan Senor.
Note: Saddam's regime was not a secular bulwark, as it is often erroneously represented by OIF opponents. Saddam's terrorism included jihadists, including affiliates of al Qaeda, and he had undertaken the sectarian radicalization of Iraqi society since the Iran-Iraq War. The Saddam regime's terroristic rule was why the de-Ba'athication was considered necessary, per UNSCR 1483 and Public Law 105-338, by the Coalition Provisional Authority.
Dale Franks of QandO (a milblog with a strong libertarian bent) provides an interesting point of view (archived) on this issue:
Excerpt from New York Times:That very last sentence also captures the reason I've always thought that, on balance, demobilizing the Iraqi Army—for all the perceived difficulties it brought us after the major combat phase ended—was probably the best course of action.
Too Few Good Men by Dan Senor and Walter Slocombe
Published: November 17, 2005
"This would have been a political disaster, alienating the Kurds and Shiites who make up more than 80 percent of Iraq's population and who understandably saw the old army as a key enforcer of Saddam Hussein's tyranny."
While it's tempting to believe that a competent Iraqi army, available right from the beginning, would've made the occupation mush easier for us, to seriously make that argument you have to believe two fairly unlikely things.
First, you'd have to believe the Iraqi Army actually was competent, which is not really supported by its actual performance. Unless, by "competent" you mean "able to cow the Iraqi civilian population". For that purpose, of course, it seems to have been pretty capable, admittedly.
Second, you'd have to believe that the Iraqi Army was trustworthy enough to trust with guns at the US Army's back. The fact that we could beat the Iraqi army—or really, any other army in the world—on the battlefield still doesn't mean that some Sunni general with his eye on a palace and gold-plated toilet of his own wouldn't've tried it. Even worse, it's almost guaranteed that an army led mainly by holdovers from the previous regime would've been even more keen to get arms into the hands of insurgents—or become insurgents themselves—than an army recruited from scratch. Although, in the event, recruiting from scratch was troublesome enough as far as inside assistance to the insurgency goes.
And, of course, the effect on the Shiite and Kurdish population, seeing what would've appeared to be a US policy of keep[ing Sunnis running the show, would've probably resulted in a lot more intransigence in those portions of the population.
On balance, it's difficult to see how we had any choice other than eliminating the old Iraqi army, and starting over from scratch.