Jay Garner, 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, 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."
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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 was replaced as head of the interim administration on May 12.
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," he said.
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."
The Bush administration has ditched plans to have a group of selected Iraqis draft a constitution before elections to elect an Iraqi government. Now, sovereignty will be handed to Iraqis in June after elections are held, with the constitution to come later.
"I think we are finally placing more trust in Iraqis, which we should have done to begin with," Garner said.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, on a two-day visit to Iraq, said a political transition to Iraqi rule will improve the security situation.
"The more that we can give all Iraqis a stake in their future and a stable political architecture in which to work, the more I believe more Iraqis will become committed to that future and fewer will think that terror and quiescence in terror is the way forward," he said.
According to The Washington Post, resistance to the original U.S. plan had grown since a leading Shiite cleric issued a fatwa in July denouncing any move to draft a constitution without elections.
Garner also complained of bad relations between the Pentagon and State Department. 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. When he brought one of the report's authors onto his team, Garner says Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered him to remove the man, citing "high level" orders.
Straw said the obstacles in Iraq shouldn't come as a surprise.
"Military action is an uncertain business," he said. "What we knew that we faced for certain was a tyrant in Saddam Hussein and a highly organized network of terror and repression, and we were never under any illusions that it would be possible to remove this in one go."
U.S. Col. William Darley, said Tuesday that attacks against U.S. forces peaked at more than 40 per day about two weeks ago and have since dropped to about 30 per day — about the same as in October and well over the number in August and September.
Since operations began in Iraq, 297 U.S. service members have died in hostile action, including 183 since May 1 when President Bush declared an end to major fighting.