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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Looting Derails Detailed U.S. Plan to Restore Iraq

WASHINGTON -- Long before U.S. President George W. Bush ordered the attack against Iraq, the White House and the Pentagon drew up a plan for rebuilding and running the country after the war that was nearly as meticulous as the battle plan.

But over the past few weeks, the wheels have threatened to come off their vehicle for establishing the peace.

The looting, lawlessness and violence that planners thought would mar only the first few weeks has proved more widespread and enduring than Bush and his aides expected and is threatening to undermine the plan.

Five weeks after Baghdad fell, Bush finds himself exactly where he did not want to be: forced to impose control with a larger number of troops and to delay the start of efforts to turn power over to Iraqis.

The message that reached the White House from two recent meetings with potential Iraqi leaders, officials say, was that it would be foolish to start experimenting with democracy without making people feel secure enough to go back to work or school, and without at least giving them the basic services they received during Hussein's brutal rule.

A senior administration official said the White House was surprised to learn how badly broken Iraq's prewar infrastructure was. "From the outside it looked like Baghdad was a city that works," the official said. "It isn't."

Bush's aides cautioned reporters before the war that even the best plans would have to be rewritten on the ground. Those plans called for quickly returning Baghdad police officers to duty to maintain a semblance of order. They envisioned cheering crowds and a swift restoration of electricity and other utilities. The quick establishment of a civilian Iraqi interim authority, officials said, would help demonstrate to a suspicious Arab world that the United States would not act as an occupier.

But many of Baghdad's 10,000 police are just now trickling back. No one in Washington anticipated the degree to which the chaos would undermine that central goal of presenting the United States as a liberator, senior officials said.

In fact, that instinct may have worsened the problem, senior officials said in interviews. Inside the White House, officials feared that if the looters were shot -- the fastest way to send the message that the United States was intent on restoring order -- the pictures on Al-Jazeera would reinforce the worst images of America in the Arab world.

Success will hinge on security, officials said, one reason about 20,000 troops and military police are headed to the Baghdad area to join the 49,000 already there.

A bitter fight between the Pentagon and State Department over control of postwar operations escalated as reports of unrest caught officials by surprise.

"[General Jay] Garner and the U.S. were unprepared to deal with the security vacuum," said Kenneth Bacon, a former Pentagon spokesman.

In mid-April, the administration adopted a new policy to accelerate the transfer to an Iraqi civilian authority. But it required a new kind of chief executive for Iraq, and it took the White House longer than anticipated to settle on Paul Bremer for the job.