San Diego Union Tribune

April 16, 2004

Analysts: Mistakes have hurt U.S. effort
Occupation's deadliest weeks highlight risks


WASHINGTON After the deadliest two weeks of U.S. operations in Iraq, military and foreign policy experts are warning that a long list of mistakes has undermined the effort to stabilize and rebuild Iraq and could set the stage for a disastrous failure.

 "The United States is facing a moment of truth in Iraq that will determine the U.S. future in Iraq and its standing in the Middle East," said Vitzhak Hakash, chair of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Brandeis University.

Michael O'Hanlon, a Brookings Institution national security analyst, said that although he has long been an optimist about Iraq, "I'm less optimistic now. . . . It's definitely a dark period."

And Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, said yesterday that he views the situation in Iraq "with a deep and abiding sense of frustration. Time is running out for us to get it right."

The comments came as nearly two weeks of bitter fighting in Iraq has left nearly 90 U.S. service personnel dead and hundreds wounded, a higher human toll than the worst two weeks during the fighting against Saddam Hussein's forces last year.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, while acknowledging that "the coalition forces have had a tough period of days in Iraq," insisted that "it's noble work, and in the end it will be successful."

Biden and the analysts said U.S. officials made mistakes in not having enough troops to handle the post-conflict period, in failing to properly screen and prepare Iraqi security forces, in failing to develop ties to different segments of the Iraqi population and in moving much too slowly to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure and economy.

Although Rumsfeld has insisted repeatedly that the forces invading Iraq last year were adequate, O'Hanlon said looking at "the missions not being done last summer" ammunition dumps and borders were left unguarded among other things "you have to say we didn't have enough troops."

"We were taken to war, essentially alone . . . with too few troops," Biden agreed.

Ken Pollack, a Middle East expert at Brookings, said the past two weeks showed that the new Iraqi security force "is absolutely hollow."

Most of the police and army units abandoned their posts or refused to join in the fights against armed Sunni extremists and the Shiite militia formed by militant cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Pollack said he had long argued that the Iraqi security forces "were not properly vetted, not properly trained, not properly equipped. They should not have been put out on the street."