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Retired US Iraq Commander Calls Bush Strategy 'Desperate'


A former commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq has sharply criticized the Bush administration's handling of the war, saying there has never been a comprehensive strategy with all the elements needed to win. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Washington.

Retired Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez says there has been a "crisis of leadership" in the administration and the congress that has led to unnecessary deaths, and that the problem has not been solved by the new strategy President Bush announced in January.

"After more than four years of fighting, America continues its desperate struggle in Iraq without any concerted effort to devise a strategy that will achieve victory in that war torn country, or in the greater conflict against extremism. From a catastrophically flawed, unrealistically optimistic war plan to the administration's latest surge strategy, this administration has failed to employ and synchronize its political, economic and military power. The latest revised strategy is a desperate attempt by the administration that has not accepted the political and economic realities of this war, and they have definitely not been able to communicate effectively that reality to the American people," he said.

Asked to say what strategy he would recommend, General Sanchez enumerated many of the points of the president's approach - train the Iraqi military, promote political reconciliation, build national institutions and work with Iraq's neighbors to get their support. But he said the administration has not synchronized the efforts of all U.S. government agencies or provided enough resources to pursue the strategy. And he says military commanders should have been given more authority to work on traditionally civilian issues, particularly early in the conflict.

General Sanchez was the commander of coalition forces in Iraq from mid-2003 until mid-2004. He was in charge during the abuse of detainees at the Abu Ghraib Prison, and he has since retired. The general has recently begun to make his criticism of the administration public, and on Friday, speaking to the Military Reporters and Editors Association, he had several very sharp things to say.

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

The retired general declined to name individuals, but he singled out the State Department for criticism and charged "neglect and incompetence" by the National Security Council, which operates directly under the president. He was also tough on members of congress. "While the politicians espouse a rhetoric designed to preserve their reputations and their political power, our soldiers die," he said.

And General Sanchez did not exempt the military leadership, including himself, from his criticism, saying it was a mistake not to get the war strategy right, not to understand the impact the invasion would have on Iraqi society and not to do anything about the problems when they first arose. "It was an absolute lack of moral courage to stand up and do what was right in terms of planning. And we allowed ourselves to believe that we, in fact, would be liberators. That was unacceptable in my view, as a general officer," he said.

General Sanchez called for the development of a U.S. national consensus on what he sees as the importance of winning in Iraq, and in the broader fight against extremism. Otherwise, he said, Iraq in particular will continue to be what he called "a nightmare with no end in sight."

There was no immediate reaction from the Pentagon spokesman.

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