Canberra: Former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld's handling of the Iraq war verged on criminal negligence, a former Australian army lawyer-turned-political hopeful said yesterday.
Colnel Mike Kelly, who ended a 20-year military career last week to run as an opposition candidate at federal elections later this year, gave his first television interview about his experiences in Iraq to Australian Broadcasting Corp-oration (ABC).
Kelly, who was among the most senior Australian officers in Iraq during 2003 and 2004, was scathing of Rumsfeld's role.
"If I look at people like Donald Rumsfeld, all I can say is, that verges on criminal negligence," Kelly told the ABC of Rumsfeld's failure to acknowledge problems in Iraq.
Kelly - an expert on the law of occupation and peacemaking operations with experience in Somalia, Bosnia and East Timor - said he offered a plan to stop looting and protect infrastructure soon after former Iraqi President Saddam Hussain was toppled. "We knew exactly what needed to be done," Kelly told the ABC.
"Then Rumsfeld came in and overruled that concept and basically threw it out the window and that was where things really started to go wrong," he said.
Kelly described disbanding the Iraqi army as "a tragic mistake" which turned thousands of former soldiers against the coalition.
He also accused the US and Australia - which along with Britain contributed troops to the US-led invasion - of ignoring warnings of human rights abuses in Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison.
Kelly, 47, has become a candidate for the centre-left Labor Party, which has vowed to bring home Australian combat troops from Iraq if it wins elections late this year.
There are almost 1,600 Australian troops in and around Iraq.
Prime Minister John Howard, a close ally of US President George W. Bush, has pledged to keep Australian troops in Iraq as long as they are needed.