WASHINGTON – Before the war, Pentagon officials expected to quickly turn a defeated Iraqi military into an army of construction workers — and possibly security guards — to help rebuild the country.
Instead, most of Iraq's 300,000 to 400,000 foot soldiers simply went home after the Americans invaded.
Some Iraqis now blame that major miscalculation by U.S. officials for much of the violence in their country.
"My expectation was that they would either surrender or capitulate," said Lt. Gen. William Wallace, who commanded U.S. Army forces in Iraq until June. "What actually happened is that they just melted into the woodwork."
The president of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (search) called this week for the United States to immediately call up much of the former Iraqi military again to help keep the peace. But Pentagon officials say they couldn't do that even if they wanted to. Iraq's American civil administrator, L. Paul Bremer (search), formally dissolved the country's army on May 23.
And U.S. officials say there's no way to quickly weed out supporters of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein from the ranks. In addition, postwar looting stripped Iraq's remaining military bases to the bare walls.
"They didn't just steal stuff that was not nailed down, they stole the toilet fixtures, and they stole the pipes and the tile in the latrines," said Walter Slocombe, Bremer's top security adviser.
"There was literally no place to feed anybody, no place to house them, no place for them to take care of essential bodily functions. And as we build up the (new) Iraqi army, we're having to go around to old Iraqi military bases and — at very considerable expense — reconstruct them simply so as to have basic facilities."
That has left hundreds of thousands of young, armed men mostly unemployed and on the streets of Iraq, rather than working with Americans to rebuild their country. Hundreds of former soldiers now regularly demonstrate outside U.S. offices in Baghdad, and some of the rallies have turned violent.
Calling up those former soldiers would help the United States "speed the process of relieving the burden on its troops," Iraqi council President Iyad Allawi (search) said Sunday.
Bremer and other American officials have repeatedly rejected such suggestions.
Before the war, Wallace and other military planners had counted on many large Iraqi military units staying in their barracks and surrendering. The Pentagon made clandestine contacts, radio broadcasts and leaflet drops encouraging Iraqi commanders and troops to do that.
"There was a very detailed system or process by which a unit could capitulate and it was detailed well in advance of our starting to fight," Wallace told The Associated Press in a brief interview on Tuesday. "But as history would prove, no units actually took us up on that offer."
A week before the war started, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld sounded optimistic about the future of some Iraqi soldiers.
"There's no question in my mind but that there are elements of the Iraqi army that will end up in an army of Iraq at some point, in the event that the Saddam Hussein regime is gone," Rumsfeld said.
That same day, two top Pentagon officials in charge of Iraq's postwar reconstruction talked to reporters on condition they not be named. They elaborated on postwar plans to pay former Iraqi soldiers to help build roads and bridges, remove rubble and clear unexploded mines and bombs.
"Using the army allows us not to demobilize it immediately and put a lot of unemployed people on the street," said one official, who is no longer part of the reconstruction process.
The U.S.-led occupation has paid stipends to some former Iraqi troops but hasn't put many of them to work. Rumsfeld and Slocombe say they hope to have 40,000 soldiers in the new Iraqi army by the end of 2004 — still only about a tenth of the prewar Iraqi military.
President Bush's request for some $20 billion in reconstruction aid for Iraq, currently pending in Congress, includes about $2 billion for training and equipping that new military force.
Asked about the new Iraqi army last month, Rumsfeld was not as optimistic.
"There are a lot of challenges, and I think that one ought not to paint a picture that is at all a yellow brick road into a wonderful future. It's hard," Rumsfeld said.