A previously undisclosed exchange of letters between President Bush and his top Iraq envoy L. Paul Bremer shows that Bush was told in advance of a plan to dismantle the Iraqi army.
Bush was quoted in a new book as saying American policy had been “to keep the army intact,” but that it “didn’t happen.”
But Bremer provided the letters to The New York Times on Monday after reading about that remark.
Bremer told the Times he released the letters to refute Bush’s suggestion that Bremer had acted to disband the army without the knowledge and approval of the White House.
“We must make it clear to everyone that we mean business: that Saddam and the Baathists are finished,” Bremer wrote in a letter drafted on May 20, 2003, and sent to the president on May 22. The letter mentioned plans to “dissolve Saddam’s military and intelligence structures.”
Bremer said he sent a draft of the proposed order to then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other top Pentagon officials on May 9. Bremer asserted that he received comments back from the joint chiefs that convinced him they understood the plan was to dismantle the Iraqi army.
One day after Bremer sent his letter to the President, Bush wrote back a short note of praise for Bremer’s work in Iraq, saying: “You have quickly made a positive and significant impact. You have my full support and confidence.”
A White House official told the Times that the original plan was to keep the army intact, but that proved unworkable.
The dismantling of the Iraqi Army is now generally considered a mistake that fomented discontent among former Iraqi soldiers and made it more difficult to battle insurgents, according to the Times.
But Bremer said: “The army had been the main instrument of repression under Saddam Hussein. I would go on to argue that it was the right decision. I’m not second-guessing it.”
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