HEIDELBERG, Germany — The war in Iraq is a lot like those that will be fought in the future, as today’s U.S. military has found out.

“This was an enemy that we could not master with our technological capability,” Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez said Thursday, echoing the observations of other top generals who spoke at this week’s Land Combat Expo 2004.

“To some extent, the future is now for war-fighting; this corps was facing that over the course of the last year,” said Sanchez, former commander of Combined Joint Task Force 7, the U.S.-led military coalition that overthrew former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in spring 2003 and has been fighting an insurgency ever since.

Sanchez cited the changing face of the enemy, the broad and changing range of stability and resistance in different parts of the country, the complexity of working with international forces, and the varying sentiments of the Iraqi people on the presence of U.S. and other foreign troops.

“Are we liberators or occupiers? It’s a matter of perspective,” said Sanchez, the V Corps commander. “There were a lot of Iraqis who truly embraced us as liberator, but there was an enemy out there and a culture out there that still saw us as occupiers.

“Part of it is us understanding the Middle Eastern culture and the Iraqi culture. … Just [our] mere presence equals ‘occupier,’ even though you’re providing them with everything they need to live, to revitalize their economy and to give them freedom and democracy and all those things that we value.”

Sanchez praised coalition troops for being adaptable and doing jobs that were not in their job description as a soldier. But the troops sometimes got back mixed messages from the people they were trying to help.

“It doesn’t matter to them,” Sanchez said. “They still need you out of there. [But] they say, ‘We don’t want you here, but we don’t want you to go.’ They would tell us that freely — ‘We don’t want you here, but don’t leave.’ So how do we resolve that?”

Sanchez spoke Thursday before about 1,500 people inside a packed Village Pavilion ballroom at Patrick Henry Village. His statements reinforced observations made Wednesday by Maj. Gen. Martin Dempsey and Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace.

Wallace, whose V Corps led the toppling of Saddam in spring 2003, acknowledged the U.S. military at times was slow to react to the shifting dynamics and sentiments of the Iraqi people, thus missing opportunities to win their support.

For months after the toppling of Saddam’s regime, Sanchez said, U.S. soldiers were the face of the coalition’s public relations effort to win the peace in the war-torn nation.

“For the soldier, it means communicating with the people and talking to them about what’s going on in their country, and trying to communicate what the future looks like,” Sanchez said. “That’s very, very difficult, and the soldier is the guy that’s out there — 180,000 of them [including non-U.S. troops] — that are touching the people across the entire country.”

Working with militaries from other nations has been easier said than done. Some militaries, for example, brought weapons and were well trained.

Others brought no weapons and weren’t trained.

“Our definition of self-defense is different than other countries’ [definitions] and you have to understand it as a commander at every level,” Sanchez said.

National caveats, such as differing rules of engagement, are something Sanchez said he hoped future coalitions would iron out.

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