The retired American general who headed the first occupation government in Iraq says the decision to disband the Iraqi army was one of several major mistakes Washington has made in Iraq.
The United States should also have put more more troops into Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein and done a better job of winning support from the Iraqi people, Jay Garner said in a radio interview aired Wednesday.
"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 told the British Broadcasting Corp.
Garner arrived in Baghdad on April 21, shortly after Saddam's fall. He was replaced by L. Paul Bremer on May 12, after less than a month as Iraq's civilian administrator. At the time he was criticized for not doing enough to stop the lawlessness in Baghdad.
Garner, a former lieutenant general who ran the relief mission for Kurdish refugees after the 1991 Gulf War, claimed he was undermined by interagency rivalry and said the military did not act quickly enough to restore law and order and key services in the city.
After the collapse of the Baath regime, looters rampaged for days, sacking businesses and government buildings. The chaos shocked many Baghdad residents, and crime remains a problem in the capital.
"If we did it over again, we probably would have put more dismounted infantrymen in Baghdad and maybe more troops there," Garner said, speaking to the BBC from his home in Florida.
He also criticized Bremer for disbanding the Iraqi army at a time when manpower was needed for rebuilding. The original plan had been to pay the army to take part in reconstruction work.
"I think it was a mistake," Garner said. "We planned ... on bringing the Iraqi army back and using them in reconstruction."
Bremer's decision threw hundreds of thousands of breadwinners out of work and provided potential recruits for insurgency, he said.
"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.
"And we had budgeted to pay the Iraqi army. But part of our plans said, you know, they'll surrender like they did in the first Gulf War. "Well, hell, they didn't surrender, they just evaporated," Garner said.
In defense of his decision, Bremer has said the army had already dissipated during the last days of the war, military facilities were heavily damaged and stripped by looters and it was necessary to rid the military of Saddam's supporters.
Garner admitted some mistakes of his own. In hindsight, he said, he would have done a better job communicating with the Iraqi people and restoring electricity supplies.
"I think we are finally placing more trust in Iraqis, which we should have done to begin with," he said.
"We should have tried to raise a government a little faster than we did," he added.
He also acknowledged that not enough effort had been put into winning over ordinary Iraqis by getting America's message across.
"We did a bad job of executing that. There's no excuse for that. The consequence of that is who they got to listen to was al-Jazeera," he said.
Garner complained of bad relations between the Pentagon and State Department, saying he didn't learn of a detailed study by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell for postwar Iraq until a few weeks before the war began in March.
After learning of the State Department plan in February, Garner had brought in Tom Warrick, a senior official involved in the study. But Garner said he was forced to fire Warrick by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Though Garner said he protested that Warrick was "too valuable" to lose, he said Rumsfeld told him: "'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," Garner said. "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 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."