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Bremer: More troops were needed after Saddam's ouster

Rumsfeld: Intelligence on weapons of mass destruction wrong

Former U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer: Ousting Saddam Hussein was "the right thing to do."
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L. Paul Bremer criticizes U.S. troop levels in Iraq.

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(CNN) -- The former U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq says the United States "paid a big price" for not having enough troops on the ground after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime.

L. Paul Bremer, speaking Monday at an insurance conference in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, said "horrid" looting was occurring when he arrived to head the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad on May 6, 2003.

"We paid a big price for not stopping it because it established an atmosphere of lawlessness," Bremer said. "We never had enough troops on the ground."

Bremer added that ousting Saddam was "the right thing to do."

A senior Defense Department official said that Bremer never asked for more troops and expressed annoyance the ambassador appeared to be second-guessing the advice of military officials. Bremer stepped down after the June 28 handover to an interim Iraqi government.

Bremer attempted to clarify his comments in a statement released Tuesday, saying his remarks referred only to "the situation as I found it on the ground, when I arrived in Baghdad in May 2003, and when I believed we needed either more Coalition troops or Iraqi security forces to address the looting."

"We developed a plan to address this problem, which has been continued by Iraq's Interim Government," he said in his statement.

During a campaign speech Tuesday in Tifton, Iowa, John Kerry said Vice President Dick Cheney should acknowledge mistakes made in Iraq, pointing to Bremer's remarks about troop strength after Saddam's ouster. (Full story)

Cheney and Kerry's running mate, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, will debate Tuesday night in Cleveland. (The debates)

Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Monday conceded that U.S. intelligence was wrong in its conclusions that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

"Why the intelligence proved wrong [on weapons of mass destruction], I'm not in a position to say," Rumsfeld said in remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. "I simply don't know."

When asked about any connection between Saddam and al Qaeda, Rumsfeld said, "To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two."

But a short time later, Rumsfeld released a statement: "A question I answered today at an appearance before the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) regarding ties between al Qaeda and Iraq regrettably was misunderstood.

"I have acknowledged since September 2002 that there were ties between al Qaeda and Iraq." (Full story)

Bremer detailed Saddam's brutality against his own people and spoke of visiting a field that was a mass grave for 20,000 to 30,000 Iraqis, including women and children.

Saddam "killed more Muslims than any man in modern history" and may have killed as many as 300,000 Iraqis during his 35 years in power, Bremer said.

At the time President Bush went to war, Bremer said, the United States and other nations had intelligence suggesting that Saddam had:

  • Provided a safe haven to terrorist groups.
  • Used chemical weapons against Iran and his own people.
  • Lied about the possession of weapons of mass destruction for almost a decade.
  • No weapons inspection teams from the United Nations had been allowed in Iraq for almost four years, Bremer said, so there was a "real possibility" that Saddam might provide weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups that have vowed to kill Americans.

    "The status quo was simply untenable," Bremer said.

    Bremer said he believes Iraq will be able to hold elections scheduled for late January.

    "Despite the daily reports, I am optimistic about the future of Iraq," he said.

    Bremer made similar remarks on troop levels at a student forum last month at DePauw University in Indiana.

    "The single most important change ... would have been having more troops in Iraq at the beginning and throughout," Bremer said in September. He said he "raised this issue a number of times with our government" but allowed that he "should have been even more insistent."

    On Monday, Rumsfeld was circumspect when asked whether the "no-go" zones that exist in a number of major cities in Iraq would invalidate the results of January's planned elections.

    "It seems to me that that is up to the Iraqis, No. 1. They have a sovereign country. They're going to decide what their elections are. They're going to make every call with respect to it."

    He added, "Needless to say, your first choice is to say that every -- we know every Iraqi deserves the right to vote. And one would anticipate that that would be the case."

    His answer differed from one he gave to a similar question last month. He implied then that voting need not be universal.

    "Let's say you tried to have an election and you could have it in three-quarters or four-fifths of the country, but some places you couldn't because the violence was too great," he said. "Well, that's -- so be it. Nothing's perfect in life. So you have an election that's not quite perfect."

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