LONDON – The retired general who headed the first occupation government in Iraq said Wednesday the United States made major mistakes, including disbanding the Iraqi army, putting too few troops on the ground and failing to explain the goals of the war.
Jay Garner (search), in his most critical comments yet, said in an interview broadcast Wednesday that the series of mistakes began in April when the U.S. military did not act quickly to maintain law and order and preserve the buildings needed for the government ministries.
"If we did it over again, we probably would have put more dismounted infantrymen in Baghdad and maybe more troops there," Garner said in a British Broadcasting Corp. radio interview.
Garner admitted he had made key mistakes himself, but also criticized his successor, L. Paul Bremer (search), for disbanding the Iraqi army which left a large number of Iraqis jobless at a time when manpower was needed for rebuilding.
"I think it was a mistake," Garner said. "We planned ... on bringing the Iraqi army back and using them in reconstruction."
Bremer's decision to disband the Iraqi army effectively threw hundreds of thousands of breadwinners out of work and provided potential recruits for insurgency, he said. The original plan had been to pay the army to take part in reconstruction work.
"You're talking about around a million or more people ... that are suffering because the head of the household's out of work," said Garner, who arrived in Baghdad on April 21 and left in June after Bremer was named to replace him.
A coalition official in Baghdad said Bremer's administration had repeatedly explained its decision to disband the army
Bremer has justified the disbanding decision by saying that the army had already dissipated during the last days of the war, military facilities were heavily damaged and stripped bare by looters and it was necessary to rid the military of Baathist supporters of Saddam.
The coalition official also called it unfair for Garner to claim the coalition was not getting its message across to the Iraqi public.
"Jay Garner has not been here since June, and doesn't really know all that's been done," the official said on condition of anonymity.
After U.S. troops swept into the capital in early April and Saddam's regime fell, looters rampaged for days, sacking businesses and government buildings. The chaos shocked many Baghdad residents, and crime remains a problem in the capital, particularly at night.
Garner said the speed of the coalition victory over Saddam Hussein's forces contributed to his administration's problems.
"I think there was a lot of thought ... on how to do postwar Iraq. I just don't think that it unfolded the way everybody expected it to unfold."
Garner said in hindsight he would have done a better job on having communications with the Iraqi people and projecting the need for more electricity. "I'd have brought in huge generators," he said.
"We should have tried to raise a government a little faster than we did."
"I think we are finally placing more trust in Iraqis, which we should have done to begin with," he said.
He also acknowledged that not enough effort was put into winning over ordinary Iraqis by getting America's message across to them after the war.
"We did a bad job of executing that. There's no excuse for that. The consequence of that is all they got to listen to was [Arab-language TV station] al-Jazeera," he said.
Garner also complained of bad relations between the Pentagon and State Department, saying he didn't learn of a detailed study by Secretary of State Colin Powell for post-war Iraq until just a few weeks before the war began in March.
The former lieutenant general said that after learning of the State Department plan in February he had brought in Tom Warrick (search), a senior planner at the State Department involved in the study. But Garner said he was forced to fire Warrick by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
"Tom was just beginning to get started with us when one day I was in the office with the secretary of defense, and he said 'Jay, have you got a guy named Warrick on your team?' I said, 'Yes, I do.' He said, 'Well, I've got to ask you to remove him.' I said, 'I don't want to remove him; he's too valuable.'
"But he said, 'This came to me from such a high level that I can't overturn it, and I've just got to ask you to remove Mr. Warrick.'"
"There's intense rivalries between all the agencies, but that didn't start with this war, that's been going on ever since we had an interagency" he said. "I mean, it's just part of Washington."
Garner rejected a suggestion that the poor communications helped strengthen opposition to the coalition presence in Iraq. Instead, he blamed hardcore supporters of Saddam's Baath party (search) and international terrorists.
"The international war on terrorism began to be fought in Iraq," he said, with anti-American fighters coming in from other countries.
"That's not all bad," Garner said. "Bring 'em all in there, we'll kill 'em there."