WASHINGTON, Jan. 25 (UPI) -- If admitting a problem is the first step to solving it, the U.S. general soon to be in charge of the Iraq war may be the best hope for turning it around.
President George W. Bush recently took responsibility for "whatever mistakes were made." Now Lt. Gen. David Petraeus has outlined in detail what those mistakes were, labeling them "situations that did not develop as was envisioned" in Iraq, in written testimony for the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The first problem was that the national elections, expected to unify the country behind a legitimate Iraqi government, did the opposite.
"The elections hardened sectarian positions as Iraqis voted largely based on ethnic and sectarian group identity," Petraeus wrote.
The U.S. government underestimated the security challenges in Iraq, particularly after the Feb. 22, 2006, bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samara. The United States also "overestimated its ability to create new security institutions following the disbandment of the Iraqi security forces," he wrote.
The U.S. military has been slow to recognize and react to the evolving threat in Iraq, Petraeus wrote. "What began as an insurgency has morphed into a conflict that includes insurgent attacks, terrorism, sectarian violence, and violent crime," he wrote.
Petraeus also outlined political mistakes made in the war. It is now conventional wisdom that de-Baathification and the disbanding of the Iraq military were mistakes. Petraeus, who held senior command positions in Iraq when both those decisions were made, anlyzed in his written assessment why those plans went wrong.
De-Baathification was intended to remove former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's henchmen but it went far deeper than that. The major problem was there was no way for Baathists to reconcile with the new regime and therefore no reason to support the new government.
"To be fair Amb. (Jerry) Bremer (the civilian administrator who brought with him the order) intended to execute reconciliation ... and gave me permission to do so on a trial basis in Ninevah province," he wrote.
Petraeus held a reconciliation commission at Mosul University. More than 100 university officials and teachers were recommended for reinstatement in their jobs. The names were submitted to the de-Baathification committee in Baghdad, but no action was taken. "As realization set in among those affected that there was to be no reconciliation, we could feel support for the new Iraq ebbing in Sunni Arab majority areas," he wrote.
Petraeus did not take issue with the decision to disband the Iraqi military which, he said, was far larger than Iraq needed and was top heavy with unnecessary officers. However, it was announced without the simultaneous creation of a stipend and pension program for those in the Iraqi army and without an announcement of how the military would be reconstituted, and how former soldiers could rejoin and reclaim their careers.
That "undoubtedly created tens of thousands of former soldiers and officers who were angry, feeling disrespected, and worried about how they would feed their families," Petraeus wrote.
A stipend was announced five weeks later, but it did not cover senior officers, and by that time there were already protests outside the Green Zone. "This action likely fueled, at least in part, the early growth of the insurgency and anti-coalition feeling," Petraeus wrote.
Petraeus, who headed the first formal effort to create an Iraqi military from June 2004 to September 2005, also criticized the slow pace of that project. "We took to long to develop the concepts and structures needed to build effective Iraqi security forces to assist in providing security to the Iraqi people," he wrote.
The prison abuse at Abu Ghraib and in other "less sensational but still damaging cases" inflamed the insurgency and damaged the credibility of the coalition in Iraq and around the world.
There was no adequate plan for post-invasion reconstruction, Petraeus wrote. "We obviously had inadequate plans, concepts, organizations, resources, and policies for the conduct of Phase IV (stability and reconstruction) operations; consequently we were slow to move into Phase IV operations."
Petraeus wrote that the command structure in Iraq for the first 15 months was inadequate for the twin jobs of managing counter-insurgency operations and the political and reconstruction work.
Petraeus also bravely wanders into politically dicey territory by saying there were simply not enough boots on the ground in several areas of Iraq. With 18,000 soldiers in the 101st Airborne Division he believes he had enough troops in Ninevah Province. It was a different story elsewhere.
"It is clear that in certain other AORs there were more tasks than troops -- especially in Anbar Province for at least the first year and likely in other areas as well," he wrote.
Ninevah province fell apart five months after the 101st pulled out and was replaced with a brigade one-third its size. The reduction in troops coincided with an insurgent rise and political destabilization after the assassination of the governor.
"Particularly in the late summer of 04, it became increasingly difficult to keep pulling the roots out as fast as the bad guys were putting the roots down," Petraeus told the Senate committee.
The strategy pursued after the February bombing in Samara was also hobbled by a lack of troops. "Repeated operations in Baghdad, in particular, to clear hold and build did not prove durable due to lack of sufficient Iraqi and coalition forces for the hold phase of the operations," the general wrote.
"We continue to feel the effects of many of the issues stated above," he wrote. I intend to work with the U.S. ambassador to gain traction on a number of levels; security for the Iraqi people, establishment of effective local governance and economic development that will create stakeholders in the new Iraq, reconciliation, the continued establishment of effective Iraqi security force, and establishment of rule of law to ensure effective justice to all Iraqis," he wrote.