Video: The cost of war

By Chief foreign affairs correspondent
NBC News
updated 5/12/2004 7:41:51 PM ET 2004-05-12T23:41:51

There was fierce fighting Wednesday in Karbala between U.S. forces and Iraqi militia loyal to the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr more than a year after the end of the war.

How did a lightning-quick invasion turn into what some fear is becoming a nightmare occupation?  Critics point to key mistakes, despite plenty of warning.

First: too few troops.  Top Pentagon officials rebuked U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, who told Congress it would take at least 200,000 troops to keep the peace in Iraq.

Instead, the Pentagon planned for only 110,000 forces for the post-war occupation — not enough to prevent widespread looting or an insurgency.

According to former Secretary of the Army Thomas White, “A great deal of the problems we have today were caused by not being in overwhelming strength at the time we took over the country.  We were not able to secure critical infrastructure that was subsequently looted power stations, hospitals, government buildings and the like.”

Second: the decision to disband the Iraqi army.  A year ago Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Iraq, let Iraqi soldiers go home with their weapons instead of using them to create a security force.

State Department consultant David Phillips said, “The decision to eliminate the Iraqi army turned those Iraqis into adversaries of the U.S.-led coalition. Not only the soldiers themselves, but all their family members, deeply resented the way they were treated.”

And what about establishing law and order?  A month before the war, retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni told Congress the United States would need at least 5,000 police trainers.  But plans were not ready. 

Why didn’t they plan better? Seventeen teams met at the State Department for more than a year before the war — on everything from how to restore water and electricity to creating a new government.  But top Pentagon officials refused to even read their 13-volume report.

Even critics admit that schools have been reopened and oil is being exported. But they say the United States never figured out how to win Iraqi hearts and minds. And the recent upsurge in violence is now a serious threat to the reconstruction of Iraq.

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