LONDON U.S. plans for handling Iraq after the 2003 invasion were "fatally flawed", a retired British general said, adding that the U.S. administration had refused to listen to British concerns about postwar planning.
Major General Tim Cross said he had talked to former Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld before the invasion about the need to have international support and enough troops on the ground to reconstruct Iraq.
"He didn't want to hear that message. The U.S. had already convinced themselves that Iraq would emerge reasonably quickly as a stable democracy," Cross told the Sunday Mirror.
"Anybody who tried to tell them anything that challenged that idea -- they simply shut it out," Cross, the most senior British officer involved in planning post-war Iraq, added.
His comments echoed those of General Mike Jackson, head of the British army during the invasion, who was quoted by The Daily Telegraph on Saturday as describing Rumsfeld's approach as "intellectually bankrupt".
The unusually outspoken comments by former top military men follow weeks of commentary, mainly in the U.S. press, suggesting British forces have failed in southern Iraq and are set to flee.
Defence analyst Charles Heyman told Reuters the criticism was surfacing "because everybody realises this is now a failed policy and they are all casting around for scapegoats".
"Why didn't someone resign at the time and say this is foolish and foolhardy?" he said.
He said the recriminations were not helpful to future military and diplomatic relations between Washington and London, which have traditionally boasted of a "special relationship".
PULLOUT FROM BASRA
British troops are expected to pull out of their last base in Basra city in the next few days to concentrate their presence in an airbase outside the city.
This is part of a plan to hand over control of the province to Iraqi security forces by the end of 2007 and pave the way for an eventual pullout of all British forces.
But the departure of Prime Minister Tony Blair in June to be succeeded by Gordon Brown has raised speculation that Britain could speed up the withdrawal of its forces.
Blair had staked his personal reputation on standing "shoulder-to-shoulder" with the United States.
Heyman said it would be very difficult for the British to withdraw entirely from the airbase as they were needed to protect supply routes and, if necessary, the oil fields.
He said he expected quite large numbers of British troops still to be there six months from now.
William Hague, foreign affairs spokesman for the Conservatives, said on Sunday the generals' concerns strengthened the case for Britain to hold a full-scale inquiry into the origins and conduct of the Iraq war.
The British government has successfully resisted previous opposition calls for an inquiry while British troops are operating in Iraq though it has not ruled one out in the future.
Hague, whose Conservatives supported the Iraq war, said "very crucial mistakes have been made".
Planners "clearly underestimated ... the number of troops that would be needed for an effective occupation force in Iraq (and) they clearly made a mistake in the immediate disbandment of the Iraqi army," he told Sky News.
Rumsfeld resigned last year after becoming a focal point for criticism of the U.S. administration's handling of the unpopular Iraq war.