U.S. leaders called `derelict' on Iraq

Ex-commanding general harshly criticizes lack of planning for war


WASHINGTON -- Retired Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the former top military commander in Iraq, delivered a blistering critique of U.S. involvement in the Iraq conflict yesterday, calling American political leaders "incompetent."

Addressing an audience of journalists who cover the military, Sanchez said the armed force's mission to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein was flawed from the start.

National leaders, said Sanchez, "have unquestionably been derelict in the performance of their duty."

"In my profession," he said, "these types of leaders would immediately be relieved or court-martialed."

On the U.S. occupation amid continuing sectarian strife in Iraq, Sanchez said: "There is no question that America is living a nightmare with no end in sight."

Lethal flaws

Sanchez - the most senior retired U.S. commander in Iraq to criticize the Bush administration - called the White House's post-invasion plans "unrealistically optimistic" and "catastrophically flawed."

Among U.S. leaders, including military officers, there was "an absolute lack of moral courage to stand up and do what was right in terms of planning" the occupation phase that followed the invasion, said Sanchez, in a speech before the journalists' group Military Reporters and Editors.

He said that the American leaders allowed themselves "to believe that we in fact would be liberators."

As a result, he said, U.S. forces are bogged down in a nearly five-year-old sectarian conflict that shows few signs of abating.

"There has been a glaring, unfortunate display of incompetent strategic leadership within our national leaders," Sanchez said.

The administration's so-called surge strategy of increasing forces into Baghdad to quell violence "is a desperate attempt" to salvage the U.S. occupation, Sanchez said.

The best the U.S. can accomplish with it, he predicted, is to "stave off defeat."

Sanchez served one year as the senior U.S. commander in Iraq, beginning in June 2003. He departed the post in the wake of the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal, which occurred during his command.

He has since said that the resulting furor over Abu Ghraib forced him to retire last November after 33 years in the Army.

Sanchez refused to single out any particular individual for his harsh assessment, but instead criticized the "neglect and incompetence at the [White House] National Security Council level" for failures in Iraq.

Sanchez said the State Department in particular "must shoulder responsibility for this catastrophic failure."

The National Security Council - the president's main venue for addressing national security and foreign policy issues - is chaired by President Bush.

At the time of the Iraq invasion in 2003, its principal members were Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, with the Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, as its principal military adviser.

Officers castigated

In addition to blasting political leaders, Sanchez castigated military commanders, without naming them, for lack of planning. At the time, the top American commander for Iraq was now-retired Army Gen. Tommy Franks.

"There was a significant disregard - absolutely against all training for a military commander - in addressing the follow-on phase of this war," he said.

One of the main criticisms of the war in Iraq and the lengthy American occupation is that the Bush administration failed to take steps that could have mitigated the insurgency that followed the March 2003 invasion.

Asked why he didn't speak out when he was commander of American forces there, Sanchez said that active-duty generals should not stand against the political leadership for fear of undermining the core constitutional principle of civilian rule.

The U.S. occupation in Iraq costs U.S. taxpayers about $2 billion each week and thus far has resulted in the deaths of at 3,821 U.S. service members.

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