The Pentagon has been accused of ignoring a report that predicted Iraq would descend into chaos after the toppling of former president Saddam Hussein.
Details of the document, compiled by the US State Department, emerged in The New York Times Sunday and raised difficult questions for the Bush administration about its handling of post-war Iraq.
The year-long study accurately forecast many of the problems besetting US-led forces. It said that, far from hailing the American troops as liberators, Iraqi society had been so brutalized by the former regime that the people would react coolly to US attempts to build democracy.
It anticipated the widespread looting that took place, caused in part by the release of thousands of criminals, and recommended forceful measures be put in place to ensure calm.
"The period immediately after regime change might offer these criminals the opportunity to engage in acts of killing, plunder and looting," the report said.
It called on American officials to "organize military patrols ... in all major cities to prevent lawlessness, especially against vital utilities and key governmental facilities". In fact the looting appeared to catch the US by surprise.
The project, which began in April last year, gathered more than 200 experts, including Iraqi lawyers, engineers and business people, into 17 working groups.
They studied topics from the creation a new justice system, to restructuring the military and reviving the crippled economy.
The suggestion the Pentagon could have been better prepared for the post-war situation will provide further ammunition to critics who argue that the US government has mismanaged the situation.
US President George W. Bush is facing an increasingly hostile environment at home as Americans are rattled by the almost daily reports of soldiers being killed.
A Republican rebellion took place in the Senate last week against White House plans for funding the rebuilding of Iraq.
The latest opinion polls show that fewer than 50 percent of Americans think Bush can be relied upon in a crisis.
The report, The Future of Iraq, reveals a strain of, at best, idealism or, at worst, naivety in the Bush administration's approach.
It said that attempts to encourage Iraqis to throw off three decades of dictatorship and embrace democracy would not be easy.
"The people's main concern has become basic survival and not building their civil society," it said.
The experts also forecast that Iraq's infrastructure would be in a far worse state than the Pentagon assumed and would need far heavier investment.
State department officials cited by the Times claimed that the Pentagon ignored the findings of the report.
"Had we done more work and had more of a commitment at the front end, there would be drastically different results now," said Senator Joseph Biden, the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.
A Pentagon spokesman challenged the allegations.
"It is flatly wrong to say this work was ignored. It was good work. It was taken into account," the spokesman said.
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