Two influential thinktanks have roundly criticised US strategy in Iraq.
The Wasington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIC) said on Wednesday that the US is facing increasingly deadly attacks in Iraq because it has failed to honestly assess facts on the ground.
And in a report published on the same day, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said Iraqi hostility towards the US-led "occupation" means that Washington can no longer achieve its pre-war goals.
The CSIC report, prepared by senior fellow Anthony Cordesman, said administration spokesmen had appeared to live "in a fantasyland" when giving accounts of events in Iraq.
Cordesman, a former Pentagon official who has made several trips to Iraq, said Iraqi spies are a serious threat to US operations and there is no evidence that the numbers of anti-US fighters is declining despite vigorous US and Iraq attacks.
After the 2003 invasion to oust Saddam Hussein, the US "assumed that it was dealing with a limited number of insurgents that coalition forces would defeat well before the election" of a new Iraqi government, Cordesman said.
"It did not see the threat level that would emerge if it did not provide jobs or pensions for Iraqi career officers or co-opt them into the nation-building effort ... . It acted as if it had years to rebuild Iraq using its own plans, rather than months to shape the climate in which Iraqis could do it."
Cordesman said in the first year of the US occupation, Washington "failed to come to grips with the Iraqi insurgency ... in virtually every important dimension".
Under the heading "Denial as a method of counter-insurgency warfare", the report accused the US of minimising the anti-US and criminal threat in Iraq and of exaggerating popular support for US-led efforts.
"It [the US] did not see the threat level that would emerge if it did not provide jobs or pensions for Iraqi career officers or co-opt them into the nation-building effort"
Center for Strategic and International Studies
Washington "in short ... failed to honestly assess the facts on the ground in a manner reminiscent of Vietnam", Cordesman wrote.
He said that as late as July 2004, administration spokesmen still lived "in a fantasyland in terms of their public announcements", including putting the core anti-US fighting force at 5000 individuals when experts in Iraq knew the correct number to be 12,000 to 16,000.
Sympathisers within the Iraqi interim government and Iraqi forces, as well as Iraqis working for US-led forces, media and non-governmental organisations, "often provided excellent human intelligence [about US-led operations] without violently taking part in the insurgency", the report said.
Cordesman said US attempts to vet these Iraqis cannot solve the problem because "it seems likely that family, clan and ethnic loyalties have made many supposedly loyal Iraqis become at least part-time sources".
Meanwhile, the International Crisis Group (ICG), a conflict-resolution organisation, said on Wednesday that Iraqi confidence in the US "is in free fall".
Soaring resentment feeds anti-US violence, making the transition process a source of, not the solution to, Washington's legitimacy deficit.
Bush said Iraq would become a
model for the region
The US said its initial objective was to turn Iraq into a model for the region - a democratic, secular and free-market oriented government, sympathetic to US interests, not openly hostile towards Israel, and possibly home to long-term American military bases.
But the Bush-administration now needs to limit its ambitions and focus on achievable goals, the ICG said.
Specificially, it should gradually disengage politically and militarily from Iraq and let Iraq disengage politically from it.
"Washington has to realise - you occupy the Iraq you have, not the Iraq you might wish to have later," said Robert Malley, director of the IGC's Middle East/North Africa Programme.
"The credibility of Iraqi institutions depends essentially on their ability to respond to the Iraqi population's needs and aspirations, which inevitably will entail distancing themselves from the US-led occupation"
International Crisis Group
Moreover, the IGC said the US should design a counter-insurgency strategy which is less focussed on militarily eliminating its opponents in Iraq, thus gaining more support within the country.
The report said Iraqis must believe they are building a unified, independent state which must define itself at least partially in opposition to US policies or risk provoking the ire of many of its own citizens.
"The credibility of Iraqi institutions depends essentially on their ability to respond to the Iraqi population's needs and aspirations, which inevitably will entail distancing themselves from the US-led occupation," said Peter Harling, the IGC's Middle East analyst.