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Wednesday 26th November 2003

General Jay Garner on Iraq

What’s gone wrong in Iraq? Gordon Corera speaks to Jay Garner, the retired U.S General who was in charge of planning and reconstruction in post-war Iraq until Paul Bremer tookover in mid May.

The notion that the US – and Jay Garner specifically – didn’t prepare for problems in post-war Iraq is utterly false. The problem is that Garner and the U.S prepared for what turned out to be the wrong problems. As Garner tells it, the Pentagon’s worst-case scenario envisaged the use of chemical weapons by Saddam against his own people (as happened in the 1980s), massive refugee flows within and out of Iraq, famine and even epidemics.

Ironically if this is what had happened, the U.S may have been better prepared and Jay Garner better suited to picking up the pieces than dealing with the actual events. Previously General Garner had been involved in dealing with the refugee and humanitarian crisis in the Kurdish North in 1991 after the first Gulf War. His impressive performance had recommended him to handle similar tasks after Gulf War II. But in the end the problems were very different.

The Iraqi state collapsed, its ministries looted, its staff gone, the Iraqi army didn’t surrender and allow itself to be used to help stabilise the country but simply evaporated, likewise Saddam. The lights went out in Baghdad and a crimewave began which left ordinary Iraqis confused and scared, albeit free.

The approach adopted by some of the civilians in the Pentagon proved right for the fighting but wrong for the peace. The US is now paying a heavy price in both men and money.

Some of the problems came in the planning – too little time and bureaucratic rivalry between the State Department and the Pentagon (remarkably, General Garner even explains how one of his own staff who had spent a year planning for after the year was pulled from him by those in higher office).

Once in Baghdad there was a lack of resources – without armed escorts General Garner’s staff could go nowhere and the military was too stretched to provide these at first. The U.S also didn’t have the money or preparedness and strategy to deal with the looting. The dissolution of the Iraqi army by Paul Bremer (on the orders of Washington according to General Garner) was also a mistake, leaving a million people in households suddenly without an income and with a reason to dislike the U.S. General Garner also admits that one of the biggest problems was the failure to communicate with the Iraqi people about what was going on and what the U.S had planned.

Together these problems contributed to the alienation of many – especially in Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle where there was less sense of liberation than the Kurdish North or Shiite South. As General Garner tells it, even if some of the mistakes hadn’t been made, the fundamental problems would still be there. But he also believes the U.S has no option but to stay the course – failure is unthinkable.

The approach adopted by some of the civilians in the Pentagon proved right for the fighting but wrong for the peace. The U.S is now paying a heavy price in both men and money.

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