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Pentagon Says Russian Intelligence Contributed to Saddam's Mistakes

24 March 2006

A report issued by the U.S. Department of Defense Friday quotes an Iraqi document as saying Russia provided intelligence to Iraq during the decisive early weeks of the war in 2002. But the report says the information was false, and contributed to Iraqi leaders' misunderstanding of their situation and miscalculations about how to respond to the U.S.-led invasion. The report also says that even after the invasion Iraqi leaders continued to believe their regime would not fall, and that many senior officials did not know whether their country had weapons of mass destruction. Those are among the findings in the 210-page report, based on extensive interviews with former Iraqi officials and reviews of documents captured when Baghdad fell.

Among the report's more dramatic revelations are Iraqi documents that say Russia was providing intelligence to the Iraqi government from sources at the U.S. command center in Bahrain. According to the documents Russia told Iraq about U.S. strategy, plans for troop movements and the timing of the invasion. But the information was false, contributing, the report says, to Iraqi leaders' confusion. One U.S. official says the Russian information was only a small part of Saddam Hussein's calculations.

Officials say this is the first time since World War II that the U.S. military has been able to do such an extensive analysis of what enemy officials knew, what they were thinking and how they reacted to various U.S. diplomatic and military moves. The result, according to Brigadier General Anthony Cucolo, the head of the Pentagon's Joint Center for Operational Analysis, is a rare and valuable document.

"The value of this is you get to see their view, as absurd as it may seem to a western military thinker. But if you take it in the context of this closed regime, they make imminent sense to the Iraqis," he said.

General Cucolo says the longer, classified version of the report, which was completed several months ago, has resulted in information being passed to trainers and troops in the field, but he said he can not reveal that information. He did say that there is no one, easy conclusion from the report that will make future conflicts against closed regimes easier.

The report indicates Iraqi leaders made a series of miscalculations. It says Saddam Hussein was convinced the United States would not pursue the invasion into Baghdad and overthrow his regime; he was more concerned about internal dissent and a possible threat from Iran; and he refused to believe that his forces were crumbling, issuing orders to units that were no longer functioning.

The report also says that the Iraqi information minister and other senior officials, including Saddam Hussein, believed their own declarations that they were winning the war, right up until U.S. forces entered Baghdad.

The report also indicates that U.S. officials were wrong about some things. It says Saddam was intentionally vague about whether he had weapons of mass destruction, but that years of Iraqi deception led U.S. officials to conclude that he did, based on what evidence they could find. Specifically it concludes that U.S. analysts badly misinterpreted an intercepted conversation between two Iraqi commanders that was used by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell in a speech at the United Nations. Secretary Powell said the men were discussing how to hide evidence of nerve gas. The report concludes they were discussing how to make sure the gas was in fact destroyed in order to comply with United Nations' requirements.

Officials declined to discuss any U.S. mistakes or miscalculations. But pressed on the issue of weapons of mass destruction, which was one of the primary motivations for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the report's principal author, Kevin Woods, said senior Iraqi officials were as confused as the rest of the world.

"I never met an Iraqi general, never interviewed an Iraqi general, who ever said, 'I know of WMD.' They all were adamant. They personally had no knowledge of WMD. However, a significant number of them would offer, 'but it is possible that it exists and I (do) not know about it.' And they articulate it in various ways but one of them is the compartmented nature of the regime. And a third one that was offered, which I found almost too ironic to believe, was that 'it might be possible because the rest of the world seems to think it's so,'" he said.

The report also says U.S. officials were concerned that Saddam would burn the southern Iraqi oil fields, and diverted considerable resources to protecting them. According to the report, Saddam issued orders not to burn the fields, believing the Americans would retreat, leaving him in office, and that he would need oil revenue for the future. The report also says U.S. concerns that Saddam would have bridges destroyed to stop the advance on Baghdad were unfounded. It says Saddam ordered that the bridges be preserved so he could move his forces to deal with any domestic uprising.

On Thurday, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld described the report as fascinating. "I sat down and got the 40-minute briefing, or something, 45 minutes, and then asked for a couple more hours. I must say that having a chance to see the lessons learned from the U.S. side, and then looking at it from the Iraqi side, I found absolutely fascinating," he said.

The report's authors say the former Iraqi military and civilian officials they interviewed, many of whom are in custody, were mostly eager to talk, wanting to get their side of the story into the public record. The authors say they did not try to interview Saddam Hussein himself.

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