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Wolfowitz Concedes Iraq Errors

But Chalabi continued to work closely with Feith and others at the Pentagon, staying in touch by satellite telephone from Iran and northern Iraq. Officials at the National Security Council and the State Department were stunned to learn in early April that U.S. military authorities had flown Chalabi and 700 hurriedly assembled fighters into southern Iraq. The vice president concurred in the decision to airlift him.

Feith said it was strictly a decision made on military grounds by U.S. Central Command, but his Pentagon critics believe that he and Wolfowitz were trying to boost Chalabi's political prospects.

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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After the fall of Baghdad on April 9, the scenario on which the occupation plan was based never materialized. If there was no humanitarian crisis, neither were there cooperative Iraqi police, soldiers or bureaucrats. Instead, a security crisis led to a cascade of other crises:

The U.S. military did not stem extensive looting. The looting crippled government ministries and police stations beyond any expectation of the Defense Department's leaders. With too few soldiers to provide security and logistics to Garner and his team, the military delayed his entrance into Baghdad for 12 days. The crippled institutions, and the delay, left a power vacuum that his staff could not fill.

Lacking virtually any working phones, Garner's staff members could hardly communicate with one another at their headquarters in Hussein's 258-room Republican Palace. They were not prepared for an overhaul of Iraqi media. They had few means of projecting a sense of American intentions or authority.

"There wasn't any way out of the chaos," said a former official who worked in Baghdad. "It was just chaos."

As Garner's effort faltered, the administration accelerated the deployment of L. Paul Bremer, whose long-planned role was to take command of reconstruction and direct the creation of a new political structure.

Bremer's "job was to go there and make it clear that we had a grip on this deal, that we were serious, that we were there to stay," a senior U.S. official said. "And to give confidence to the Iraqis and the rest of the world that we had a plan."

Staff writers Glenn Kessler, Vernon Loeb and Thomas E. Ricks contributed to this report.

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