America's handling of the occupation of Iraq came in for scathing criticism Wednesday, with government officials accused of living in a "fantasyland" and failing to learn from mistakes made in Vietnam. A report issued by the independent Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington charged that the occupation had been handled by "ideologues" in the Bush administration who consistently underestimated the scale of the problems they were facing and that this had contributed to a culture in which facts were willfully misrepresented.
The report lists a litany of errors on the part of the United States. "Their strategic assessments of Iraq were wrong," it says. "They were fundamentally wrong about how the Iraqi people would view the United States invasion. They were wrong about the problems in establishing effective governance, and they underestimated the difficulties in creating a new government that was legitimate in Iraqi eyes.
"They greatly exaggerated the relevance and influence of Iraqi exiles, and greatly underestimated the scale of Iraq's economic, ethnic, and demographic problems."
The report lays responsibility for these errors with the policymakers in Washington. "The problem with dealing with the Iraqi army and security forces was handled largely by ideologues who had a totally unrealistic grand strategy for transforming Iraq and the Middle East," the report says.
Under the heading "Denial as a method of counterinsurgency warfare," it notes that the United States "failed to honestly assess the facts on the ground in a manner reminiscent of Vietnam." But there was a rare attempt at honesty from the Pentagon Wednesday when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he was "truly saddened" that anybody might think he did not care about U.S. soldiers. "Their grief," he said, "is something I feel to my core."
American efforts to rebuild Iraq received a further blow Wednesday when it was revealed that one of the leading U.S. contractors in the region, Contrack International, was pulling out. The decision to scrap its $325 million contract to rebuild transport infrastructure was prompted by rising violence and related security costs, the company said. The decision marks the first time that a prime contractor has decided to leave Iraq. "The security environment is not always permissive to doing the kind of work that they were trying to do," a Pentagon spokesman said.
Contrack was supposed to construct new roads, bridges and transportation terminals in Iraq. But it wound up only refurbishing a handful of train depots, reported the Los Angeles Times. Construction sites came under small-arms and mortar fire, and earlier this year, an Egyptian driver working for the company was kidnapped by insurgents. His body was found 12 days later, with five bullet holes to the head.