THE US mission in Iraq is a "nightmare with no end in sight", because of continuing political misjudgements that started after the fall of Saddam Hussein, a former chief of US-led forces has said.
The blistering assessment by retired lieutenant general Ricardo Sanchez was one of the harshest yet by a top military leader involved in the war.
"There has been a glaring, unfortunate display of incompetent strategic leadership within our national leaders," Sanchez told a group of military reporters, according to a copy of his remarks.
"America continues its desperate struggle in Iraq without any concerted effort to devise a strategy that will achieve 'victory' in that war-torn country or in the greater conflict against extremism," he said.
Without mentioning President George W Bush by name, he called the president's troop-escalation "surge" strategy a "desperate attempt by an administration that has not accepted the political and economic realities of this war".
"There is no question America is living a nightmare with no end in sight," he said.
Although Sanchez avoided singling out any specific official, he did criticise the State Department, the National Security Council, Congress and the senior military leadership in a broad indictment of White House policies and a lack of leadership to oppose them.
The Bush administration didn't directly address the critical views.
"We appreciate his service to the country," said White House spokesman Trey Bohn. He added that, as US commander in Iraq General David Petraeus and US ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker have said: "There is more work to be done, but progress is being made in Iraq and that's what we're focused on now."
Sanchez commanded the US-led coalition in Iraq from June 2003 until July 2004, as the anti-US insurgency took hold.
He retired from the Army last year. As he stepped down, he called his career a casualty of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.
He was never charged with anything, but he was not promoted in the aftermath of the prisoner abuse reports. He was criticised by some for not doing more to avoid mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners.
Sanchez now says he thought he had made mistakes and said he didn't always fully appreciate the secondary effects of actions the military took.
He denies reports that he and then Iraqi administrator L Paul Bremer were not on speaking terms, saying they speak every day.
The retired soldier stressed that it became clear during his command that the mission was severely handicapped, because the State Department and other agencies were not adequately contributing to a mission that could not be won by military force alone.
When asked when he saw the mission was going awry, he said: "About June 15, 2003" - the day he took command.
"There is nothing going on today in Washington that would give us hope" that things are going to change, he said.
Sanchez went on to offer a pessimistic view on the current US strategy against extremists, but said a full-scale withdrawal also was not an option.
The Ministry of Defence declined to comment on Sanchez's comments. "It's not our place to get involved," said a spokesman.
The comments came after four US congressional committee chairmen accused the State Department of suppressing information about corruption inside Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki's government.
The senior Democrats said endemic corruption was fuelling the insurgency, endangering US troops and undermining their chances of success.
The State Department rejected the claims.