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Wolfowitz Concedes Iraq Errors

Through the fall, there was no single coordinator for competing ideas: A proposal to set up a postwar planning office died because the administration feared that it would signal already skeptical U.N. Security Council members that Bush was determined to wage war.

No issue was more contentious than the shape of Iraq's future governing structure. Central to this issue was the role of exile Ahmed Chalabi, the London-based head of the Iraqi National Congress who was reviled by the State Department and CIA as much as he was revered by senior Defense Department officials and some in the White House.

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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Prominent Chalabi supporters, including some at the Pentagon, backed his demand to create a provisional Iraqi government dedicated to democratic principles and designed to reassure Iraqis that the United States had no colonial intentions. The State Department argued that Iraqis who had suffered under Hussein's rule would be alienated by a wealthy expatriate who left Iraq in 1958 -- and would blame the Americans for backing him.

That debate and others remained unresolved as autumn gave way to winter. It was not until January that Bush designated a coordinator to pull together the various plans. On Jan. 20 -- the day the French foreign minister announced that France would not support a U.N. resolution for war -- Bush signed National Security Directive 24, giving postwar control of Iraq to the Pentagon, which had lobbied hard for the job.

Career civil servants who had helped plan U.S. peacekeeping operations in Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo said it was imperative to maintain a military force large enough to stamp out challenges to its authority right away. Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, then-Army chief of staff, thought several hundred thousand soldiers would be needed.

Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz rebutted him sharply and publicly.

"It's hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself and to secure the surrender of Saddam's security forces and his army," Wolfowitz told the House Budget Committee on Feb. 27. "Hard to imagine."

Powell and his top aides thought it made sense to allow the Pentagon to control the immediate postwar phase, when security would be the dominant issue. Still, they expected to contribute ideas and staffing to the political side of reconstruction -- they even budgeted for an embassy to become the central U.S. institution in Iraq within a few weeks of Hussein's anticipated defeat.

But as the Defense Department put together its occupation plans, the State Department felt doors closing.

'So Much Tension'

The circle of civilian Pentagon officials given the task of planning the occupation was small. From its early work, it all but excluded officials at State and even some from the Pentagon, including officers of the Joint Staff.

"The problems came about when the office of the secretary of defense wouldn't let anybody else play -- or play only if you beat your way into the game," a State Department official said. "There was so much tension, so much ego involved."

The Pentagon planners showed little interest in State's Future of Iraq project, a $5 million effort begun in April 2002 to use Iraqi expatriates and outside experts to draft plans on everything from legal reform to oil policy. Wolfowitz created his own group of Iraqi advisers to cover some of the same ground.

Defense rejected at least nine State nominees for prominent roles in the occupation; only after Powell and others fought back did Rumsfeld relent. Tom Warrick, leader of the Future of Iraq project, was still refused a place, at the reported insistence of Cheney's office.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay M. Garner, who was appointed to be the first civilian coordinator in the occupation, said in an interview that he asked Wolfowitz for an expert on Iraqi politics and governance.

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