Two top officials who have been part of the Bush administration's strategic planning on Iraq are now questioning several key assumptions made by the White House in the run up to last year's invasion.

The man who led the U.S. occupation of Iraq until June now says the Pentagon made a mistake and paid a big price for it by not sending more troops to Iraq to stop looting and lawlessness that broke out just after the fall of Saddam Hussein last year.

Paul Bremer made the comments to a private audience in West Virginia Monday, three months after stepping down as the top U.S. official in Baghdad, when political power was handed back to Iraqis in June. A Pentagon spokesman says he cannot recall Mr. Bremer ever voicing such concerns to officials in Washington although Mr. Bremer maintains he did.

While he now says he believes current troops levels are sufficient, his comments reflect those made by many opponents of White House policy on Iraq, including Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. The senator told supporters in Iowa Tuesday the Bush administration should now acknowledge the mistakes he says were made in Iraq.

"I'm glad Paul Bremer has finally admitted at least two of them, and the president of the United States needs to tell the truth to the American people," he said.

Before the Iraq war, the Pentagon's former Army chief of staff, General Eric Shinseki also said the administration was committing too few troops to the Iraq war. He has since taken retirement after top Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, publicly criticized his comments.

And, despite assertions by some Bush administration officials that Saddam Hussein's government had links to al-Qaida, Mr. Rumsfeld told an audience in New York Monday he has seen no strong, hard evidence of that.

"I have seen the answer to that question migrate in the intelligence community over a period of a year in the most amazing way," he said. "Second, there are differences in the intelligence community as to what the relationship was."

Later, the defense secretary appeared to step back from those comments. In an e-mail to reporters, he said he was misunderstood. He pointed out that he has previously acknowledged ties between Saddam Hussein and the terrorist network. In the e-mail he said that when he made those assertions, he was relying on conclusions given to him by the CIA.