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U.S. troops entered Baghdad on April 5. There was euphoria in the Pentagon. The looting in the streets of Baghdad and the continuing attacks on coalition troops were considered temporary phenomena that would soon subside. On May 1, President George W. Bush announced, "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended," on the deck of an aircraft carrier, near a banner that read MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. Shortly thereafter, Franks moved his headquarters from Qatar back to Florida. He was followed there in June by McKiernan, whose Baghdad operation included several hundred intelligence officers who had been keeping track of the situation on the ground. "Allowing McKiernan to leave was the worst decision of the war," says one of his superiors. (The decision, he says, was Franks'.) "We replaced an operational force with a tactical force, which meant generals were replaced by colonels." Major General Ricardo Sanchez, a relatively junior commander and a recent arrival in Iraq, was put in charge. "After McKiernan left, we had fewer than 30 intelligence officers trying to figure who the enemy was," says a top-ranking military official who was in Iraq at the time. "We were starting from scratch, with practically no resources."
On May 23, the U.S. made what is generally regarded as a colossal mistake. L. Paul Bremer--the newly arrived administrator of the U.S. government presence, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA)--disbanded the Iraqi army and civil service on Rumsfeld's orders. "We made hundreds of thousands of people very angry at us," says a Western diplomat attached to the CPA, "and they happened to be the people in the country best acquainted with the use of arms." Thousands moved directly into the insurgency--not just soldiers but also civil servants who took with them useful knowledge of Iraq's electrical grid and water and sewage systems. Bremer says he doesn't regret that decision, according to his spokesman Dan Senor. "The Kurds and Shi'ites didn't want Saddam's army in business," says Senor, "and the army had gone home. We had bombed their barracks. How were we supposed to bring them back and separate out the bad guys? We didn't even have enough troops to stop the looting in Baghdad."
A third decision in the spring of 2003--to make the search for WMD the highest intelligence priority--also hampered the U.S. ability to fight the insurgents. In June, former weapons inspector David Kay arrived in Baghdad to lead the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), which had 1,200 intelligence officers and support staff members assigned to search for WMD. They had exclusive access to literally tons of documents collected from Saddam's office, intelligence services and ministries after the regime fell. Kay clashed repeatedly with U.S. military leaders who wanted access not only to the documents but also to some of the resources--analysts, translators, field agents--at his disposal. "I was in meetings where [General John] Abizaid was pounding on the table trying to get some help," says a senior military officer. "But Kay wouldn't budge."