Gen. Dempsey: Military leaders failed to 'understand' Iraq's Islamic sects

Gen. Martin Dempsey, tapped by the White House to be the next top military officer, acknowledged Tuesday that he and other senior officers failed to grasp the power dynamics among Islamic-based groups in Iraq.

After the U.S. military toppled the Saddam Hussein-led regime there in 2003, a powder keg erupted that was driven, in large part, by centuries-old power struggles and distrust among Iraq's various Islamic sects.

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It took American civilian and military leaders years to adapt and understand these dynamics, which experts say played a major role in both the length and violent nature of the Iraq war.

Driving the lack of understanding was a tendency of the military to "take five minutes to understand" an issue while immediately spending the next "55 minutes trying to solve it," Dempsey said during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Dempsey commanded the Army's 1st Armored Division in Iraq from June 2003 until July 2004. He later served as acting U.S. Central Command chief from March 2008 until October 2008, and has been nominated to become the next Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman.