Image: Jim Miklasszewski
By Jim Miklaszewski Chief Pentagon correspondent
NBC News
updated 10/5/2004 6:33:25 PM ET 2004-10-05T22:33:25

Ambassador Paul Bremer, who ran the U.S. provisional government in Iraq for more than a year, now claims the U.S. military should have had more troops in Iraq to halt the widespread looting after the fall of Baghdad.

"We paid a big price for not stopping it because it established an atmosphere of lawlessness.  We never had enough troops on the ground," Bremer said Monday at a conference in West Virginia.

After leaving Iraq last June, Bremer said much the same on the "Today" show.

"Obviously, it would have been better if we could have had more security sooner. No question about that," Bremer told NBC's Matt Lauer.

But last month in a speech at DePauw University in Indiana, Bremer went even further saying: "The single most important change would have been having more troops in Iraq at the beginning and throughout" the U.S. occupation.

But when Bremer was in Iraq he ordered that the Iraqi Army — which could have contributed to security — be disbanded.

Bremer claims he repeatedly raised the troop issue within the administration, and if he had been more insistent, the situation in Iraq might be better today.

But a senior Pentagon official tells NBC News that to his knowledge Bremer didn't raise the troop issue until shortly before he left Iraq last June. And at the White House Tuesday, National Security Adviser Condeleezza Rice told NBC News she can't recall whether Bremer ever raised his concerns with President Bush, but added the president gave his commanders all the troops they said they needed.

"The point is, that whenever the president talked to his military commanders, he told them, 'whatever you need, more troops, whatever you need — you just let me know, you'll have them,'" says Rice.

Reached by telephone Tuesday, Bremer told NBC News he was not granting interviews because he was in the process of writing a book. But his latest remarks about U.S. troop levels have already become part of the heated political debate over the war in Iraq.

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