Criticism of Rumsfeld grows as retired generals call for his dismissal

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The Independent US

A bevy of retired senior generals have called for the dismissal of Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary - an unprecedented show of criticism that almost certainly reflects the mood among senior officers still in service at the Pentagon.

The latest to demand that Mr Rumsfeld go is Army Major-General John Batiste, former commander of the first infantry division in Iraq. He says that the Defence Secretary, convinced he knew best, sent too few troops to Iraq and was unprepared for what most senior commanders believed would be a difficult and complex occupation.

"I think we need a fresh start," General Batiste told the Washington Post yesterday, in the same week that a former chief operating officer of the Pentagon aimed a devastating broadside at Mr Rumsfeld, in which he regretted not speaking out much sooner.

The military's quiescence, former Lieutenant-General Greg Newbold wrote in a Time magazine essay, meant that "a fundamentally flawed plan was executed for an invented war, while pursuing the real enemy, al-Q'aida, became a secondary effort." He denounced as "an outrage" the recent statement of Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, that although "thousands of tactical errors" had been made, the strategic decisions over Iraq were correct. That, said General Newbold, was an attempt "to shift the blame for failure to those who had been resolute in fighting."

The criticism follows similar charges from other former commanders, including Anthony Zinni, the former chief of Central Command, who declared the US had wasted three years in Iraq. Another retired officer, Major-General John Riggs, told the Post "everyone pretty much thinks Rumsfeld and the bunch around him should be cleared out."

Many of those who planned Iraq have moved on. Paul Wolfowitz, the former deputy secretary, is now at the World Bank, while Douglas Feith, once Under-Secretary for Policy, stepped down lest year. But Mr Rumsfeldis still in place. An atmosphere of revolt is not new. In 2001, a "generals' rebellion" at Mr Rumsfeld's reform plans was close to boiling over until dissent was cut short by 11 September.

Calls for his head resurfaced in 2004 after the Abu Ghraib debacle. Mr Rumsfeld said he had twice offered to resign but President Bush turned him down. The basic obstacle now is the same as then: that for Mr Bush to jettison his Pentagon chief would be tantamount to admitting the whole Iraq enterprise was wrong.