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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney acknowledged on Tuesday he was wrong in 2005 when he insisted the insurgency in Iraq was in its "last throes."
It was Cheney's most direct public admission of how badly the administration had underestimated the strength of America's enemies in the increasingly unpopular war in Iraq.
But Cheney, an architect of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, otherwise gave no ground in an interview on CNN's "Larry King Live" as he defended President George W. Bush's Iraq policy.
He said the Bush administration would still send troops into Iraq if it could do it all over again, even knowing what it knows now, including that more than 3,000 U.S. military personnel would be killed.
"I firmly believe," Cheney said, "that the decisions we've made with respect to Iraq and Afghanistan have been absolutely the sound ones in terms of the overall strategy."
But Cheney made clear he no longer held to a May 2005 assessment, widely mocked by political satirists and Democratic politicians, in which he said, "I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency."
Since then, unrelenting attacks have brought Iraq to the brink of civil war.
Cheney's words were among many oft-cited quotes marking the U.S. pursuit of the war, which has damaged U.S. credibility around the world. They include Bush's taunting insurgents after the invasion by declaring "Bring 'em on!" and the banner stating "Mission Accomplished" behind Bush as he spoke aboard an aircraft carrier on May 1, 2003.
Cheney, known for his secretive ways and rarely one to admit mistakes publicly, said:
"My estimate at the time -- and it was wrong, it turned out to be incorrect -- was the fact that we were in the midst of holding three elections in Iraq, elected an interim government, then ratifying a constitution, then electing a permanent government, that they had had significant success, we'd rounded up Saddam Hussein.
"I thought there were a series of these milestones that would in fact undermine the insurgency and make it less than it was at that point. That clearly didn't happen. I think the insurgency turned out to be more robust."
Cheney said it had also been made before al Qaeda in Iraq had stepped up attacks, including the 2006 bombing of a Shi'ite mosque that sparked a wave of sectarian killings.
The Bush administration is facing growing pressure from a Democratic-led Congress and a war-weary American public for a timetable for U.S. withdrawal, something Bush firmly rejects.
In a further blow to Bush's strategy, Iraq's parliament went into summer recess for a month on Monday after political leaders failed to agree on a series of laws that Washington sees as crucial to stabilizing the country.
"It's better than taking two months off, which was their original plan," Cheney said. "I made it clear, for example, when I was there in May that we didn't appreciate the notion that they were going to take a big part of the summer off and they did cut that in half."
He insisted that since the U.S. Congress takes the month of August off, "I don't think we can say that they (Iraqi lawmakers) shouldn't go home at all."