In the months before the Iraq war the Pentagon ignored repeated warnings that it would need a substantial military police force ready to deploy after the invasion to provide law and order in the postwar chaos, US government advisers and analysts said Tuesday.
Some 4,000 US military police are now being deployed in Baghdad, seven weeks after the city's fall, but only after most Iraqi government services have been crippled by a wave of looting and arson.
The anarchy and crime in the Iraqi streets was foreseen by several panels of former ambassadors, soldiers and peacekeeping experts, who advised the Pentagon and the White House while the invasion was being planned. They urged that lessons be learned from previous US-led military interventions and a post-conflict police force be established before the war.
Robert Perito, a former diplomat who had designed a similar police mission in Haiti nine years ago, put together a detailed plan on how to deal with postwar lawlessness, warning that regular troops, trained to shoot to kill or retreat, were not right for the job.
He wrote a report for the US Institute for Peace and briefed the defense policy board, a Pentagon advisory panel, in February. He said the board had appeared to agree with his conclusions but no action was taken.
"The need for specialized forces was widely anticipated, but they have only just got there and are going to be just in Baghdad," he said. "The damage has already been incalculable. The bombing campaign was conducted in such a way by the air force to meticulously preserve key government facilities, cultural sites, hospitals and other civilian buildings. But as soon as the conflict ended, those facilities were destroyed by looters."
Similar warnings and recommendations were made by experts at the Council on Foreign Relations, the Atlantic Council, and the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. The Council on Foreign Relations study was overseen by a Republican former defense secretary and member of the defense policy board, James Schlesinger. It was presented to White House officials but its recommendation, that a police force be sent alongside the combat force, was not acted on.
The postwar breakdown of law and order in Iraq has several precedents in US military history. It resembles the Panama invasion of 1989, where much of the damage to Panama City occurred after combat operations were over.
Five years later, in Haiti, the lesson appeared to have been learned, and an international constabulary force, which Perito helped to assemble, was standing by in Puerto Rico to follow US troops into Port-au-Prince.
But after the 1995 Dayton peace accord US-led forces in Bosnia were unprepared to deal with a wave of arson, looting and thuggery by Serbs abandoning the suburbs of Sarajevo. Eight years later, in Iraq, Perito said the Pentagon had made a "colossal miscalculation over what they thought the Iraqis would do".
"They thought the Iraqis would just get over the trauma of the war and go back to work on the first day," he said.
The deputy defense secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, rejected the criticism, saying the fighting in Iraq was not over.
"We need to recognize that this situation is completely different from Haiti or Bosnia or Kosovo, where opposition ceased very soon after our peacekeeping troops arrived," he told Congress last week.