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Wolfowitz Concedes Iraq Errors

Bush administration officials say bad news from Iraq overshadowed extensive planning for calamities that never occurred, such as a chemical weapons attack, a refugee crisis and an oil field disaster.

"Given the magnitude and the complexity of the task, and given how far we have come since the war ended, I think it has been a pretty well-managed process," said Douglas J. Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy and a central player in the occupation planning, in an interview. Pentagon policymakers drew on advice from throughout the administration, he said, and Bush's decision to put the Pentagon in charge of the early postwar period is being "vindicated by events."

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay M. Garner, right, attends a meeting on postwar Iraq. Garner, who headed the reconstruction effort, said his staff spent a lot of time planning for humanitarian crises. (Tim Sloan -- AFP Pool Photo)

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But in contrast to the planning for war, other officials said, the Defense Department's attention to the occupation was haphazard and incomplete.

"There was a serious disconnect between the forces necessary to win a war and occupy a country," said a U.S. official who worked in the initial postwar effort and is still in Baghdad. "We fooled ourselves into thinking we would have a liberation over an occupation. Why did we do that?"

Warnings About Obstacles

Preliminary planning for the occupation began in August, one month before Bush signaled in a speech to the United Nations that he was prepared to oust Hussein by force. National Security Council member Frank Miller quietly received instructions to create a structure to study topics ranging from refugees to financial reform.

By early October, officials drawn from agencies across the government were beginning to meet, amid speculation that the United States could be at war by year's end. Considerable attention was focused on a potential humanitarian crisis, and how relief and reconstruction would win Iraqi support for the occupation.

"The whole operation is going to rise or fall on whether Iraqi people's lives are materially improved," said one committee member who reckoned that the Americans would have to deliver visible results within weeks of an invasion.

Veterans of other conflicts soon identified security as the most important requirement for early relief and long-term stability. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell emphasized the need in talks with Bush last fall, aides said, as he urged the president to seek U.N. approval for the war. With U.N. assent, Powell believed, would come troops and contributions from other nations.

Similarly, the intelligence agencies, especially the CIA, were "utterly consistent in arguing that reconstruction rather than war would be the most problematic segment of overthrowing Saddam," a senior administration official said. In classified written and oral reports, the official continued, the intelligence community warned the administration "early and often" about obstacles U.S. authorities were likely to face.

In particular, the agencies repeatedly predicted that Hussein loyalists might try to sabotage U.S. postwar efforts by destroying critical economic targets, the official said. One analysis warned that Iraqis "would probably resort to obstruction, resistance and armed opposition if they perceived attempts to keep them dependent on the United States and the West."

Those concerns, however, were secondary among the principal architects of the Iraq policy, who were concentrated in the Defense Department, the White House and Vice President Cheney's office.

In addition to believing that Iraqi soldiers and police officers would help secure the country, they thought that Iraqis would embrace the American invaders and a future marked by representative government, civil liberties and a free-market economy, and that Iraqi bureaucrats, minus a top layer of Baath Party figures who would quit or be fired, would stay on the job.

Within weeks, if all went well, Iraqis would begin taking control of their own affairs and the exit of U.S. troops would be well underway.

"Everyone thought it could be done on a small investment and that Iraqis could be mobilized to do the bulk of the job," said Tim Carney, a former diplomat recruited to manage an Iraqi ministry.

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