View Full Version : Bush, officials pass buck over who ordered Iraq army disbanded

Thommy Melanson
09-09-2007, 02:28 PM
by Sig Christenson

SAN ANTONIO, United States (AFP) - As General David Petraeus prepares to tell Congress that a troop surge has helped tamp down Iraq's civil war, Washington is in buck-passing mode over who made the decision many say is at the root of the instability: disbanding the Iraqi army.

Former secretary of state Colin Powell says no one told him about it, and that then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice was in the dark too.

President George W. Bush says he thought the army would be kept intact after the US-led invasion in March 2003, but concedes to having a fuzzy memory on the matter.

"Yeah, I can't remember," he said in a new book, "Dead Certain," by Robert Draper. "I'm sure I said, 'This is the policy, what happened?"

The former administrator of Iraq, Paul Bremer, and his military counterpart at the time, retired army Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, say Bush is evading responsibility for one of the war's biggest blunders.

Others counter that Bremer is the one trying to shirk the blame.

"In very broad terms, there's an effort on the part of politicians to distance themselves from the decisions that created strategic vulnerabilities for the country," Sanchez, who led coalition troops in the first year of the occupation, told AFP in an interview.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto didn't dispute the exchange between Bush and Draper, who interviewed the president at length for his book.

But Fratto took issue with critics of the decision, saying there was no Iraqi army left to rebuild after the invasion.

Military officials familiar with early war strategy say that belief was a huge mistake. The soldiers who melted away had guns and knew where all the ammunition dumps were.

"Just saying they disbanded, (and) we don't need to do anything more with that, that was just fatal," said retired Army Col. Paul Hughes, a top figure in the occupation's first days.

As importantly, Sanchez said he and army General John Abizaid, who led the US Central Command at the time, argued that they needed to re-establish the military quickly to "put an Iraqi face" on the occupation.

"It was a known threat that if you failed to do anything with the Iraqi army and you disenfranchised them you were asking for trouble," Sanchez explained.

Immediately after Bush's comments to Draper were made public last week, Bremer insisted to the New York Times that Bush knew of his plans to dissolve Saddam Hussein's security structure.

He said a draft of the order was circulated among top Pentagon officials, including then-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The Times said that Bremer was smoldering as other officials distanced themselves from the order.

"This just didn't pop out of my head," he told the paper.

Sanchez said major Iraq policy decisions were a collaborative effort between Washington and Baghdad, and that top White House and Pentagon officials were always involved.

"Bremer didn't make those decisions unilaterally," Sanchez, now retired, told AFP. "Those plans were well understood in Washington."

Powell, himself a former top military general, said he was out of the loop.

"As has been reported on many occasions, I was not aware of the order to disband the army until after it was issued. Neither apparently was Rice," he said in an e-mail.

Powell also said that then-top general Peter Pace said the Pentagon's joint chiefs of staff, who advise the president, did not approve it.

The man Bremer replaced, retired army Lieutenant General Jay Garner, said he briefed Bush and other top officials on plans to keep the army intact before leaving for Baghdad.

He wanted to keep up to 250,000 soldiers, minus most of the senior Iraqi officers, and have them work on roads and bridges, and guard the borders and myriad ammunition dumps.

Garner said all the plans changed when Bremer took over. During one argument in Baghdad, Bremer made it clear to Garner that he was not acting alone in disbanding Iraq's forces.

"He told me, 'Look, I have my instructions and I intend to execute,'" said Garner.

"Unfortunately, he's become a fall guy for those decisions," he said.

However the decision originated, it landed with a thud among Iraqis, who saw the army as a symbol of national pride.

"They wanted a job, they wanted respect, they wanted to feed their families, they wanted to know their country wasn't going to be treated like a colonial possession," said George Packer, author of "The Assassins' Gate -- America in Iraq."

"It was both a national humiliation and a personal humiliation for those soldiers, and I have met individuals who told me that was what prompted them to pick up a gun and fight the Americans."

09-09-2007, 02:35 PM
President George W. Bush . . . concedes to having a fuzzy memory on the matter.Something tell me this a a phrase we will be seeing a lot of in the coming years.

Thommy Melanson
09-09-2007, 02:36 PM
Something tell me this a a phrase we will be seeing a lot of in the coming years.


I guess we should count our stars we live in such documented and recorded and archived times as we do, for whatever good it shall do.