The White House and Pentagon promised "shock and awe," but the new book "Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq" describes a U.S. military command that was itself shocked by Saddam's paramilitary — the Fedayeen, non-uniformed militias in pickup trucks with AK47s — the roots of today's insurgency.
They thought that if we take Baghdad, the war is over," says author Michael Gordon, the New York Times' chief military correspondent. "In reality, you're just entering a new phase of the war."
In the book, Gordon portrays a Pentagon constantly second-guessing its own field commanders.
I think they didn’t learn the lessons of the early battles," he says. "And I think we're paying a price for that today."
From hundreds of interviews and classified documents, the book lists critical warnings that were ignored. For instance, the Pentagon thought its bloodiest battles would be with Saddam's Republican Guard. Instead, it melted away. But a Marine intelligence officer warned that the Fedayeen's "hit and run attacks" would persist.
"Tommy Franks, the central commander, considered they were a speed bump on the way to Baghdad," says retired Marine Gen. Bernard Trainor, who co-authored the book.
And when the Army's field commander, Gen. William Wallace, told reporters he wanted to stay and fight the Fedayeen and that the enemy was "a bit different because of the paramilitary forces than the one we war-gamed against," Washington exploded at his remarks and his caution, and Wallace was almost fired.
Later, when Baghdad fell, the authors say Franks was so confident he asked for a plan to withdraw all but 40,000 troops in six months.
"Of course they were wrong," Trainor says. "They were wrong right from the start."
Monday, the Pentagon refused to comment on the book, and the White House insisted the war was run from the field, not from Washington or Central Command.
But the authors say that's exactly what happened — and why America is still at war three years later.
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints