...the insurgency might not have put down roots in the country after the fall of Baghdad if it had not been for the White House and State Department - which undermined military efforts to strike deals with a number of Iraq's most disaffected tribal leaders. These officers point out that the first contact between high-level Pentagon officials and the nascent insurgency took place in Amman, Jordan, in August of 2003 - but senior Bush administration officials killed the talks.
A second round of meetings, this time with leaders of some of al-Anbar province's tribal chiefs, took place in November of 2004, but again senior administration officials refused to build on the contacts that were made. "We made the right contacts, we said the right things, we listened closely, we put a plan in place that would have saved a lot of time and trouble," a senior Pentagon official says. "And every time we were ready to go forward, the White House said 'no'."
Who gets the lion's share of the blame?
...these commanders continued to run into opposition to their program from then-National Security Council director Condoleezza Rice, who maintained her opposition to their program after she became secretary of state. L Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, who had suspended the Ba'ath army and was intent to cleanse Iraq of its Ba'athist influence, also opposed the program through all of 2004. "Bremer was just nuts about any meetings with any insurgents, any Ba'athists, anyone he didn't approve," a Pentagon official notes, "and Condi backed him up".
By the end of 2005, Rice's opposition to any opening to the Sunni leadership in Iraq became almost obsessive, according to currently serving senior military officers. In one incident, now notorious in military circles, Rice "just went completely crazy" when she learned that a marine colonel had dispatched combat helicopters to help a "a Sunni sheikh" in Fallujah fight what the sheikh called an "imminent al-Qaeda threat".
As a senior Pentagon official now relates: "The Sunni leader literally picked up the telephone one day and called the ranking colonel at the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF)and pleaded with him, 'I need help and I need it now. Al-Qaeda is killing my tribe'." The marine colonel in question was John Coleman, the chief of staff to the same unit that had gone into Fallujah to fight the insurgency after the killing of four US security contractors in April of 2004.
"Rice was just enraged with Coleman and with the marines," a senior Pentagon officials say. "She said, 'you have to stop all of that right now and you can't do it unless you have State Department permission and the permission of the Iraqi government'. Well, the marines weren't about to do that. They were taking a lot of casualties and they were fed up. And they just concluded that it was their war and not hers," a senior Pentagon civilian recently noted. "So they just ignored her and went ahead anyway."
Pretty damning stuff. Is that the whole story? Maybe, maybe not. It sure would be nice to get the White House's response to these claims. If you'll recall, 2003 and 2004 were when the White House, joined by Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, thought that the insurgency was composed only of "dead-enders" and a small contingent of foreign infiltrators. It would hardly be surprising if it were revealed that they repudiated working with the insurgents when they thought they would easily deal with them by force alone.