BAGHDAD -- A month before the war began in Iraq, senior Bush administration officials said their plan for winning the peace was built upon the swift provision of basic services that would "immediately" make the Iraqi people feel they were better off than they had been under the government of Saddam Hussein.
Five weeks after the war ended, the administration is still struggling to accomplish that goal. It has failed to establish law and order on the streets and has achieved only mixed results in restoring electricity, water, sanitation and other essential needs.
In interviews here and in Washington, and in testimony on Capitol Hill, military officers, other administration officials and defense experts said the Pentagon ignored lessons from a decade of peacekeeping operations in Haiti, Somalia, the Balkans and Afghanistan.
It also badly underestimated the potential for looting and lawlessness after the collapse of the Iraqi government, lacking forces capable of securing the streets of Baghdad in the transition from combat to postwar reconstruction.
Only in the past week did administration officials begin to acknowledge publicly these miscalculations. They described continued lawlessness as a serious problem in Baghdad and called for more U.S. forces on the ground to quell a wave of violence that has kept American officials from assuring the Iraqi people that order would soon be restored.
"This was a war plan," said a senior official in the Pentagon's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance in Baghdad. "It was not a law enforcement plan."
The administration, without explanation, has replaced retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay M. Garner, the Pentagon's chief reconstruction official, with L. Paul Bremer III, a former Reagan administration diplomat who arrived in Baghdad on Tuesday and immediately unleashed major changes in policy. U.S. forces increased patrols across Baghdad, launched an aggressive pursuit of criminals and started imprisoning looters for 20 days.
Bremer and his aides also halted the withdrawal of any U.S. forces and commenced a high-level, comprehensive review of security needs. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld called security his number one priority and touted the arrival of more than 15,000 additional troops -- bringing the U.S. presence to nearly 160,000. There also are 40,000 British troops in the country.
On Friday, Bremer issued a written directive banning 15,000 to 30,000 ranking members of Hussein's Baath Party from holding government jobs, reversing a policy -- developed during months of discussions before the war began -- that would have excluded only the party's most senior members from government service.
How and why senior military and civilian leaders at the Pentagon were caught unaware of the need to quickly make the transition from war-fighting to stability operations with adequate forces mystifies military officers, administration officials and defense experts with peacekeeping experience from the 1990s.
"Somewhere behind the combat forces should have been somebody in large numbers who were going to do public security," said William Durch, a peacekeeping expert at the Stimson Center, a Washington think tank. "It's so elemental from looking at dozens of conflicts; you can't do anything without security."
Defense experts inside and outside the Pentagon say military planners were clearly influenced by the Pentagon's belief, expressed by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz and other senior leaders, that U.S. forces would be welcomed as liberators. They also point to the Bush administration's professed antipathy to military peacekeeping and nation-building, as articulated by the president during the 2000 campaign when he charged the Clinton administration with overextending the armed forces with such missions.
Defense experts and some military officers also cite the Pentagon's determination to fight the war and maintain the peace with as small a force as possible, noting it reflected Rumsfeld's determination to use the war in Iraq to support his vision for "transforming" the military by showing that smaller and lighter armed units, supported by Special Forces and air power, could prevail on the 21st century battlefield.
"It's very important that you built this thing small," one senior Defense official with extensive peacekeeping experience said. "It validates Rumsfeld's view of the future."
On Capitol Hill, however, even some Republicans are beginning to warn that the administration, having brilliantly prevailed on the battlefield, is in danger of losing the peace. The "hard lessons learned in Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Haiti and Afghanistan on the need to quell emergent lawlessness seems to have fallen out of the battle plan during the dash to Baghdad," Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), chairman of a House Government Reform subcommittee, told a hearing on postwar Iraq last week.
On the streets of the shattered Iraqi capital, U.S. Army Lt. Stephen Gleason and his weary 27th Infantry scout team, having helped win the war, now find themselves in a frustrating fight against street criminals and gang members.
"These guys have taken everything but the dirt," Gleason said. "The first thing we did was bust looters. When we came in, people were brandishing their weapons at us. It was a difficult change of gears that we weren't expecting."
Officials inside and outside the administration say the shift in mission should not have been a surprise.
In January, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, published an "action strategy" for Iraq that recommended the Pentagon plan as diligently for the postwar period as for the war. "To avoid a dangerous security vacuum, it is imperative to organize, train, and equip for the post-conflict security mission in conjunction with planning for combat," the document states.
In February, an official from the U.S. Institute of Peace briefed the Defense Policy Board, an influential advisory panel, on a $628 million proposal, developed by the institute and based on peacekeeping experiences in Kosovo. It called for bringing 6,000 civilian police officers and 200 lawyers, judges, court administrators and corrections officers into Iraq as soon as the fighting stopped.
Both proposals, according to a senior administration official, "were matched by debates inside the government."
"A number of people have said over the months, 'It's more than just winning the war, there needs to be a secure environment,' " the official said. "That can't have been a surprise to the [military] authorities. This side of the river made it clear numerous times that we would be looking to [the Pentagon] for that kind of secure environment."
But the Pentagon had no plan for civilian policing assistance in place, and almost no military police on hand, when the fighting stopped in early April.
In recent Pentagon news conferences, Rumsfeld has denied charges that there were too few troops in Iraq to restore order. He noted that 15,000 troops from the 1st Armored Division and hundreds of additional military police officers are soon to arrive in Baghdad, bringing overall U.S. troop levels in Iraq to almost 160,000.
Although that represents 40 percent of the Army's 10 active duty divisions, it is still relatively small on a per-capita basis when compared with previous peacekeeping missions -- when 60,000 U.S. and allied forces secured 4 million people in Bosnia and 40,000 troops secured 2 million people in Kosovo. Iraq has a population of 23 million.
Before the war began, Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, told Congress that "several hundred thousand" forces could be necessary to stabilize Iraq after a war. Several days later, Wolfowitz told another congressional committee that far fewer troops would be needed, calling Shinseki's estimate "way off the mark."
Testifying before the House International Relations Committee last week, Douglas J. Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy, insisted that the Pentagon had anticipated "serious problems" in the postwar period and said careful planning had helped avert food and medical crises in the country. Acknowledging security issues and "terrible problems" with electricity, water and other basic services, he said these things "by and large existed before the war."
© 2003 The Washington Post Company