At the heart of the controversy is a still-unresolved dispute over who was mainly responsible for one of the biggest mistakes of Bremer's 15-month tenure in Iraq, one that is commonly ascribed to him. This was the decision in May 2003 to reverse the efforts of Bremer's predecessor, retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, to put the ragged elements of the Iraqi Army to work. After Bremer formally disbanded the army, some disaffected soldiers were believed to have joined the insurgency, which still rages.So. Fucked. Up.
Administration officials said today that this decision was made on the ground in Iraq, rather than in Washington. Before the war, the plan was to get rid of Iraqi Army officers but use regular troops for security and reconstruction after Saddam's ouster. But Bremer "flipped that around," said a White House official. He added that Bremer and his deputy, Walt Slocombe, made the decision by themselves.
But Bremer and Garner have previously indicated the decision was made in Washington. According to one official who attended a meeting that Bremer had with his staff upon his arrival in Baghdad in mid-May of 2003, Bremer was warned he would cause chaos by demobilizing the army. The CIA station chief told him, "That's another 350,000 Iraqis you're pissing off, and they've got guns." According to one source who was at the meeting, Garner then asked if they could discuss the matter further in a smaller meeting. Garner then said: "Before you announce this thing let’s do all the pros and cons of this, because we are going to have a hell of a lot of problems with it. There are a hell of a lot more cons than there are pros. Let’s line them all up then get on the phone to [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld." Bremer replied: "I don’t have any choice. I have to do this." Garner then protested further, but Bremer cut him off. "The president told me that de-Baathification comes before the immediate needs of the Iraqi people."
When NEWSWEEK put this account to Bremer in a tape-recorded interview at the Pentagon at the end of September of last year, he did not dispute it. A former official with Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority also told NEWSWEEK on Wednesday that "he did this with the full knowledge of the administration."