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General recounts tour at prison

NEW YORK -- Iraqi prisoners could lift their cell doors off their hinges. One senior sergeant whiled away his evenings blasting grazing sheep with a guard-tower machine gun. US commanders did not tell their troops they would be in Iraq for months more than advertised.

The only woman commanding general in the war zone, Abu Ghraib prison chief Janis Karpinski, has written a memoir of her year there, a candid portrait of an often dysfunctional US Army.

The book, ''One Woman's Army," published by Hyperion, sheds little new light on the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, in which Karpinski, an Army Reserve brigadier general, was the highest-ranking officer punished. She was relieved of her command, reprimanded, and demoted to colonel.

Karpinski said she did not know about the detainee torture and humiliation, that higher-ups encouraged the cruel treatment, and that male Army ''regulars" made her a scapegoat as a woman and a reservist.

She presses those points in her 209-page book and said events since have shown that the abuse extended far beyond her 800th Military Police Brigade, to US detention centers in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

But it is her vignettes of an American army at war, of the hot, dusty, and snafu-filled world in which her ''patched-together, undertrained, overextended, poorly supported" brigade landed, that opens windows on the reality of Iraq.

It began soon after she took command in June 2003. Within weeks, just before her Reserve unit was to return to America, she said she learned the Army had issued orders in May to extend the brigade's time in Iraq by six months. ''No one had bothered to tell me," she writes.

Bungling, she said, next plagued the hurry-up efforts to rebuild Iraq's ransacked prisons to hold thousands of suspected Iraqi insurgents.

One day, she said, panicked Iraqi guards fled a Baghdad lockup, and when her MPs entered they found the prisoners milling around outside their cells. The contractor had installed the door hinges on the inside of the cells, and the inmates lifted the pins out and walked free, she said.

Visiting the US occupation office responsible for prisons, Karpinski said she was amazed at the ''anarchic accounting" and ''carefree spending" in its cash-only operations. Two civilians there ''had photos taken of themselves holding fists full of US dollars, with more bills sticking out of their pockets," she writes.

At times the quality of her troops also disturbed her. She said one sergeant major would climb Abu Ghraib's towers at night ''and unload a .50-caliber machine gun on any sheep or dogs that came in range."

The most dispiriting ''Catch-22," Karpinski said, involved the prickly Reserve-Regular relationship, and her dealings with ''CJTF7," the Baghdad command.

''Because we were Reserves, we had to go through CJTF7 to order spare parts, and CJTF7 would not supply us because we were Reserves," she said. It got to the point where most of her unit's vehicles on the road should not have been, she said.

When insurgent mortars knocked out water-pump power at Abu Ghraib, CJTF7 commanders told her to get her own new generator in Kuwait. But she didn't have supply trucks. ''Figure it out, Janis," she said she was told. The dismal prison went without running water for two months.

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