Russia denies spying on US for Iraq

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The Independent US

Russia yesterday sought to dismiss claims that it had a spy inside the US military headquarters during the invasion of Iraq, and that it passed on information about the American battle plan to Saddam Hussein and his regime.

The denial followed claims in Washington that Russia had a source inside the US Central Command base in Doha, Qatar, who was able to pass information to the Russian ambassador in Baghdad. He in turn handed it over to Saddam. The intelligence passed to the Iraqis correctly warned that the US military intended to bypass the major cities on its thrust northwards from Kuwait towards Baghdad and concentrate instead on surrounding the Iraqi capital. It also contained specific information about US troop numbers, units and locations, according to a report released by the Pentagon on Friday.

"The information that the Russians have collected from their sources inside the American Central Command in Doha is that the United States is convinced that occupying Iraqi cities is impossible, and that they have changed their tactic," said one Iraqi document dated 25 March 2003, and later seized by the US.

The documents and claims about the Russian spy are contained within a 210-page report,Iraqi Perspectives Project. It examined more than half a million files of seized Iraqi documents and had access to interviews with former Iraqi officials.

Not only is it unclear what effect the information had on the Iraqi regime, there have also been suspicions raised in Washington that some false information may have been deliberately leaked to Saddam to mislead his senior commanders. For instance, one document suggested that the main US military thrust would not come from the south - as it did - but from Jordan and into Iraq's western deserts.

Russia has strongly denied the allegations. A statement released by the country's foreign intelligence service yesterday said: "Similar, baseless allegations concerning Russia's intelligence have been made more than once. We don't consider it necessary to comment on such fabrications." Russia had a close relationship with Iraq prior to the war and some analysts believe the claim of spying is not unfeasible.

Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent Moscow-based military analyst, told the Associated Press that a unit linked to the Russian military's main intelligence department, the GRU, was working inside Iraq at the time of the invasion and that information was posted on the internet in Russia containing striking insights and analysis of US operations.

The main author of the US study, Kevin Woods, said that he had been surprised to learn the Russians had passed intelligence to Saddam, but he had no reason to doubt the authenticity of the Iraqi documents.

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