Ex-Pentagon official: ‘Iraq a nightmare’

A former top US military commander in Iraq said the current White House strategy in Iraq will not achieve victory in the four-and-a-half-year war, which he described as “a nightmare with no end in sight” in a hard-hitting speech.

In the bluntest assessment of Iraq by a former senior Pentagon official yet, retired Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez also lambasted US political leaders as “incompetent,” “inept,” “derelict in the performance of their duty” and suggested they would have been court-martialed had they been members of the US military.

“There is no question that America is living a nightmare with no end in sight,” said Sanchez on Friday, addressing a meeting of military correspondents and editors in Arlington, a Virginia suburb of Washington.

He blasted President George W. Bush’s “surge” strategy which calls for maintaining more than 160,000 US troops in Iraq until the end of the year in the hope of reducing sectarian violence and bringing political stability.

The strategy has since been adjusted, with the current plan calling for the withdrawal of about 21,500 combat troops by next July to bring the total to the “pre-surge” level of 130,000 servicemen.

But Sanchez said he did not believe these changes would prove effective.

“Continued manipulations and adjustments to our military strategy will not achieve victory,” he said. “The best we can do with this flawed approach is stave off defeat.”

Born into a poor family in southern Texas, Sanchez rose through the ranks of the US military to become the highest-ranking Hispanic in the US Army.

In 1991, he served as a battalion commander during Operation Desert Storm, a US-led allied operation to drive Iraqi forces from occupied Kuwait.

He became commander of coalition forces in Iraq in June 2003, after the US-led invasion, and served in that capacity for a year.

Sanchez retired from the military in November 2006, part of the fallout from a scandal over abuse of detainees by US military personnel at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.

Reacting late Friday to Sanchez’s comments, the White House evoked a September report to Congress by the current US military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and US Ambassador Ryan Crocker. They painted a difficult situation they said was nevertheless marked by gradual improvements.

“We appreciate his service to the country,” White House spokesman Trey Bohn told AFP, of Sanchez. “As General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker have said, there is more work to be done, but progress is being made in Iraq. And that’s what we are focused on now.”

Sanchez, however, had a starkly different view.

“There is nothing going on today in Washington that would give us hope,” he said in his speech.

He said US political leaders from both parties have been too often consumed by partisan grandstanding and political struggles that, as he put it, at times have “endangered the lives of our sons and daughters on the battlefield.”

“There has been a glaring, unfortunate display of incompetent strategic leadership within our national leaders,” the retired general complained. “In my profession, these type of leaders would immediately be relieved or court-martialed.”

“The administration, Congress and the entire inter-agency, especially the Department of State, must shoulder the responsibility for this catastrophic failure and the American people must hold them accountable,” he added.

For all his criticism, Sanchez essentially agreed with President George W. Bush’s position that a precipitous US military withdrawal from Iraq would plunge the country and, possibly the whole region, into chaos.

He argued that some level of US military presence in Iraq would be necessary “for the foreseeable future.”

The New York Times cited Sanchez as saying he favored promoting reconciliation among Iraqi sectarian factions and standing up an effective Iraqi army and police force — projects already being tackled by the Bush administration.

It reported that the ex-commander was said to be considering publishing a book.