'Too Soon' to Call Iraq a Failure, British General Says

By Kevin Sullivan and Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, September 8, 2007

LONDON, Sept. 7 -- The general who led the British army from the 2003 Iraq invasion until last year said that it was "too soon" to declare Iraq a failure and that Britain and the United States have a "moral commitment" not to withdraw troops prematurely.

"I just think it would be wrong to pack up before the conditions are right, and without the agreement of the Iraqi government," retired Gen. Mike Jackson said in an interview Friday.

Jackson, in the interview and in his new autobiography, "Soldier," praised the U.S. military but blamed much of the current chaos in Iraq on poor strategic planning by the Pentagon. He singled out former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, calling his planning for post-invasion Iraq "intellectually bankrupt."

"I'm not saying Donald Rumsfeld is stupid, far from it," Jackson said. "But the intellectual grasp of the complexity and breadth of what this campaign was going to be about, it seems to me it wasn't there."

Jackson's comments to The Washington Post and other news organizations are the sharpest criticism to date of the United States' Iraq policy by a high-ranking British military officer. They come at a time of increasing tension between Washington and London over the future of military operations in Iraq.

The comments also come just ahead of next week's key progress report to Congress by Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ryan C. Crocker, the U.S. ambassador there.

In the interview, Jackson said he believed current British commanders were right to withdraw the last British troops from downtown Basra on Monday. About 500 troops were moved to a nearby air base in what Prime Minister Gordon Brown called a shift from combat to an "overwatch" role.

"I think we had achieved everything we were going to," Jackson said.

But he stressed that significant troop withdrawals from Iraq should come only when Iraq can handle its own security. "I do believe we have a moral commitment," he said. "It's quite a thing to invade somebody's country, even if for the majority it is a better outcome than continuing under the wretched regime that they had."

Jackson, a 45-year veteran of the British military and one of its most respected figures, said the overall situation in Iraq was worse than he anticipated, largely because of poor planning for post-invasion Iraq.

He said the Pentagon, under Rumsfeld, sent too few troops to handle the period following the invasion. He also criticized decisions to disband the Iraqi army and remove virtually all former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party from the Iraqi government.

"The Pentagon leadership thought that all that was necessary is to take the head off this regime, put a new head on, and somehow everything's fine," Jackson said. "Well, it's much more complex."

Jackson said he remains an "optimist" about Iraq's future. "I am not saying that Iraq's a busted flush -- no way," Jackson said, using a poker analogy. "That Iraq has failed? It's too soon to call that."

Jackson cited recent improvements in security in Anbar province since the increase in U.S. troop numbers this year as a positive sign.

He also said he was encouraged by news of a recent meeting in Finland between representatives of Iraqi Sunni and Shiite factions. The meeting was hosted by a South African politician and Martin McGuinness, a former Irish Republican Army leader who is now deputy head of Northern Ireland's new provincial government.

Jackson, a veteran of several tours in Northern Ireland during the sectarian war known as the Troubles, said he was intrigued by the notion of applying lessons learned there and in apartheid-era South Africa to ending violence between Iraq's warring factions.

"The root cause of the inter-sectarian violence is political, therefore the solution in the end must be political in one way or another," he said.

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