A former top US military commander has called for the dismissal of key Pentagon officials, saying he was "disappointed" by their failure to properly plan for post-war developments in Iraq.
Retired general Anthony Zinni warned that the US military could reach "breaking point".
Zinni, who headed the US Central Command from 1997 to 2000, did not name the officials he would like to see leave. But when asked on PBS television's The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer if heads should roll at the Department of Defence, Zinni answered: "Absolutely."
"Any time we lose lives, any time we have miscalculated, any
time we have to go back to the American people and ask for more treasure, more sacrifice and it was not calculated and it should have been, then somebody should be held responsible," he said.
Responding to a question calling for his assessment of Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s performance, Zinni said he was ''disappointed in the planning for this operation".
“I'm disappointed in what was advertised as transformation of the military. I have yet to see it. I don't understand it. I see a military that's very strained, that could reach the breaking point."
Speaking in Congress earlier on Wednesday, Rumsfeld said
charges that the Pentagon had no plan for post-war Iraq were "just utter nonsense."
But Zinni insisted that management of the US armed forces and their structure "has not become clear and maybe is not realistic in looking at the situations we face in the world".
The PBS interview marked the second time the no-nonsense former Centcom commander and Middle East special envoy blasted President George Bush administration's handling of the war and military affairs in general.
Addressing a Marine Corps Association gathering on 4 September, Zinni suggested the United States might be slipping into a new quagmire similar to the Vietnam War.
"I see a military...that could reach breaking point"
Major General Anthony Zinni
"I ask you, is it happening again?" the general said in that speech. "And you're going to have to answer that question, just like the American people are."
In his interview, Zinni appeared to take a step back, saying he did not believe the United States was stuck in a quagmire in Iraq. "But I do think we can't do business as usual," he stressed. "We can't just stay the course and keep doing the same things."
Zinni also said he believed the administration "exaggerated" the threat to US national security from Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in advance of the war.
"And I think that's dangerous," he pointed out. "We've been down that road before. If it was to take down Saddam because he is bad and evil, if it was to improve things in the region, if it was a strategic decision based on some strategic assessment, it should have run on its own merits."
In the run-up to the war, President George Bush accused Iraq of failing to get rid of weapons of mass destruction as required by UN resolutions - and of maintaining secret ties with the al-Qaida network accused of responsibility for the September 11 attacks on the US.
But his administration has so far failed to find either chemical or biological weapons in Iraq or provide solid proof of Saddam's al-Qaida connection.