General Recalls Post-War Collapse in Iraq

The former top commander of coalition forces in Iraq accuses the Bush administration in a new book of "gross incompetence and dereliction of duty" that resulted in the wounding and killing of thousands of American soldiers.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez's "Wiser in Battle" is the latest addition to the already crowded genre of books by major figures in the Iraq War, from Gen. Tommy Franks to Ambassador Paul Bremer.

Like the others, Sanchez's book points plenty of fingers and includes few mea culpas. He expanded on those themes in an interview with

Although he presided over a period of increasing insurgent attacks and the Abu Ghraib scandal, Sanchez blames the Pentagon and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for not implementing a post-war plan that could have helped stabilize Iraq.

There actually was a 12- to 18-month plan for post-invasion operations to stabilize Iraq, Sanchez says, but he claims it was abandoned, and the Central Command staff who oversaw the invasion were allowed to leave the country. And incredibly, when confronted, Rumsfeld claimed to be unaware that his top command had left Iraq.

"That decision set up the United States for a failed first year in Iraq. There is no question about it. And I was supposed to believe that neither the Secretary of Defense nor anybody above him knew anything about it? Impossible."

Sanchez recalls confronting Rumsfeld during a 2006 meeting, who responded that he was "dumbfounded" to learn that the senior leaders had left Iraq and that Sanchez was in charge.

"'Well, how could we have done that?' said Rumseld in an agitated, but adamant, tone. 'I knew nothing about it.'"

Sanchez writes that it was "clearly a pattern on the Secretary's part, and now I recognized it. Bring in the top-level leaders. Profess total ignorance … In essence, Rumsfeld was covering his rear. He was setting up his chain of denials should his actions ever be questioned."

Rumsfeld was not available for comment.

Though Sanchez came under fire because he was aware of problems at Abu Ghraib and issued memos authorizing the use of such interrogation techniques as environmental manipulation and disrupting sleep patterns, Sanchez blames the Pentagon.

"The fact is those memos are put together to constrain that totally unconstrained approach … we outlined a list of interrogation approaches that are unquestionably determined by lawyers in my command to be acceptable," Sanchez tells

He says that two techniques deemed to be overly harsh were removed in a second memo issued a month later in October 2003.

Did the difference between the two memos create confusion for guards and soldiers at Abu Ghraib, possibly leading them to abuse prisoners?

"There may be, but in fact the legal investigation after Abu Ghraib, a very thorough investigation, determined that those memos are within Geneva conventions."

Sanchez says that the Pentagon depended on a 2002 memorandum intended for the treatment of detainees in Afghanistan in which "soldiers and commanders are left to their own devices and that put us on a slippery slope."

"Because of abuses that occurred in 2002 in Bagram [Afghanistan], they knew we had significant problems with interrogation and detention and that commanders are in desperate need of guidance and we do nothing."

As a result, Sanchez says he took it upon himself to issue new memos that would not overstep the Geneva conventions.

He also describes strange pep talks from Bush, pushing for aggressive military action.

During the battle of Fallujah in 2004, the president called for Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr to be "wiped out" and launched into a gung-ho speech:

"Kick ass! If somebody tries to stop the march to democracy, we will seek them out and kill them! We must be tougher than hell! This Vietnam stuff, and this is not even close. It is a mind-set. We can't send that message. It's an excuse to prepare us for withdrawal.

"There is a series of moments and this is one of them. Our will is being tested, but we are resolute. We have a better way. Stay strong! Stay the course! Kill them! Be confident! Prevail! We are going to wipe them out! We are not blinking!"

Sanchez, who has not talked to Rumsfeld since his forced resignation, admits that he made mistakes.

"Probably the first one was that we're not as aggressive at addressing detentions and interrogations … if we had implemented our policies, we probably could have prevented some of the abuses."

His other regrets include underestimating Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr and not completing the Fallujah mission.

Despite his criticism of the conduct of the war, Sanchez believes that withdrawal would be a big mistake.

"I think that we have a moral and legal responsibility to ensure that we leave when we have stabilized the country," he says. "To advocate precipitous withdrawal is something we could not do … Having a timeline is very premature."