- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 14, 2006

LONDON — Shortly after U.S. forces invaded Baghdad, British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s point man in Iraq warned him in two confidential cables that the Americans were mishandling the occupation and losing public support, according to a new book.

On April 9, 2003, U.S. troops swarmed into Baghdad and television footage seen around the world showed crowds toppling a 40-foot statue of dictator Saddam Hussein in Firdous Square.

But a much different picture emerged in the first confidential cable that John Sawers, Britain’s ambassador to Egypt and its main official in Iraq at the time, sent to Mr. Blair and his Cabinet, according to “Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq.”

The book, by New York Times correspondent Michael R. Gordon and Gen. Bernard E. Trainor, a retired Marine officer, was published yesterday in Britain (Atlantic Books) and in the United States (Pantheon).

Mr. Sawers is now the director-general of the political office at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London.

Mr. Sawers’ cable in May 2003 — titled “Iraq: What’s Going Wrong” — painted a bleak picture.

He said the exhausted U.S. troops occupying the capital lacked an overall strategy for dealing with former members of Saddam’s Ba’ath Party, beginning reconstruction projects and handling the media. They also lacked a plan and funding to maintain security, he said.

“The problems are worst in the capital, and it is the one place we can’t afford to get it wrong,” Mr. Sawers wrote. “The clock is ticking.”

His memo said the U.S. postwar administration led by Jay Garner, a retired three-star general, “is an unbelievable mess.”

“No leadership, no strategy, no coordination, no structure and inaccessible to ordinary Iraqis. … Garner and his team of 60-year-old retired generals are well-meaning, but out of their depth,” the cable said, according to the book.

Asked about Mr. Sawers’ two confidential cables, Mr. Blair’s spokesman said yesterday, “I don’t comment on leaked memos.”

“The prime minister has in the past quite openly said that … mistakes were made in the early days on some of those issues such as Ba’athification. There’s nothing new in that, but I’m not going to comment on an alleged leaked memo as such,” the spokesman said.

In 2003, Mr. Sawers said the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division, which had taken Baghdad, was exhausted and “needs to go home now, and be garlanded as victors.” He said Britain should consider sending some of its forces based in southern Iraq to Baghdad.

But, the book says, “For all Sawers’ warnings, the United States would continue to shoulder the burden of the Iraqi capital.”

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