As he prepares to leave Iraq after a year as the top Marine, Maj. Gen. Walter E. Gaskin is upbeat about the future of Anbar province but candid about U.S. mistakes made in the early years of the war that allowed the insurgency to grow.
U.S. officials created a "perfect storm" after the March 2003 invasion that allowed the insurgency to attract recruits, Gaskin said in interviews here this week. He listed the top three mistakes: disbanding the Iraqi army, banning members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party from involvement in government and shutting down state-run enterprises.
"We created that storm that forces of Al Qaeda took full advantage of," Gaskin said.
The result, he said, was a wave of insurgent violence in Anbar, the sprawling province west of Baghdad. The Marines have had major responsibility for the region since 2004 and fought two prolonged battles with insurgents in Ramadi, the provincial capital, in the first year.
Gaskin's comments echoed widespread criticism of the early U.S. policies not only from analysts and politicians but also from some senior military officials. They came as the Marines are in the process of handing off authority in several areas. On Tuesday, responsibility for western Anbar was transferred from the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 2nd Marine Regiment to the Camp Pendleton-based 5th Marine Regiment.
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