The Iraq War Blame Game Escalates

The disagreement between President Bush and Paul Bremer, the former Iraq administrator, over the decision to disband the Iraqi military is just the most recent chapter in an ongoing saga of back-biting and recrimination between current and former architects of the war.

Most of the war's principal planners, such as Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and Richard Perle, have left the administration and its principal manager, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, resigned last November. Other major figures involved in executing the war, such as George Tenet and Colin Powell, have also departed.

The only major officials who remain are current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and current National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.

No longer required to be team players, several former officials have attacked one another in print with the ruthlessness of a pack of abandoned stepchildren. Bremer and Tenet have written memoirs about their experiences, Rumsfeld is reportedly looking for a book deal and Feith's "War and Decision" is due out next March.

Bremer a Target

Bremer, who claims that Bush was fully aware of plans to disband the Iraqi army, has remained one of the biggest targets.

When Bush recently told author Robert Draper, "The policy had been to keep the army intact; didn't happen" and "I'm sure I said, 'This is the policy, what happened?'" Bremer shot back by saying that the president was aware of those plans and agreed with them. Bremer released a letter he'd written to the president about the plans to disband the army that included Bush's reply: "You have my full support and confidence."

The decision to disband the Iraqi Army, which was made by Bremer, Wolfowitz, Feith, and Walter B. Slocombe, Bremer's top security adviser, in May 2003, ended up alienating former soldiers and driving many into the ranks of anti-American militants and the growing insurgency, according to senior military officials. The incoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Navy Admiral Michael Mullen, recently called that decision one of the biggest postwar mistakes.

It also came as a surprise to military members on the ground in Iraq, including a top colonel involved in postwar planning.

Paul Hughes, former senior CPA Office of Reconstruction special initiatives chief, had already met with two contractors hired by the Pentagon, Ronco and MPRI, to finalize plans to retrain the Iraqi Army as a labor force involved in security, rubble-clearing, electrical and mechanics.

Hughes met with several Iraqi generals who wanted to supply the American forces with information about Saddam's brutal leadership and to assist with security. According to Hughes, Jay Garner, who was Bremer's predecessor, had already briefed the president on plans to use the Iraqi military as a labor force.


So, when he was back in the United States for his daughter's graduation in May 2003, Hughes was shocked to turn on the TV and see Bremer announce that the Iraqi Army would be disbanded. "I couldn't believe it," Hughes told "You can't get these guys all spun up and then slip the rug out from under them. How can you even begin to think this was the right decision?"

Could the decision have been reversed by Bush or Bremer? "This administration doesn't admit making mistakes," says Hughes. "Once the toothpaste is squeezed out, you can't put it back in."

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