Russia 'gave Saddam intelligence on invasion'

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The Independent Online

The Russian government collected intelligence from sources inside the American military command as the US mounted the invasion of Iraq, and the Russians fed information to deposed President Saddam Hussein on troop movements and plans, according to Iraqi documents cited in a Pentagon report released Friday.

The Russians relayed information to Saddam during the opening days of the war in late March and early April 2003, including a crucial time before the ground assault on Baghdad, according to the documents.

The unclassified report does not assess the value of the information or provide details beyond citing two captured Iraqi documents that say the Russians collected information from sources "inside the American Central Command" and that battlefield intelligence was provided to Saddam through the Russian ambassador in Baghdad.

A classified version of the Pentagon report, titled "Iraqi Perspectives Project," is not being made public.

In Moscow, a duty officer with Russia's Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the report late Friday. No one answered the phones at the Defense Ministry.

A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Barry Venable, referred inquiries seeking comment to Central Command. At Central Command headquarters in Florida, officials did not immediately respond to a request.

State Department spokesman Adam Ereli declined to comment.

In addition to citing the Iraqi documents on the matter of Russian intelligence, the report also directly asserted that an intelligence link existed.

"Significantly, the regime was also receiving intelligence from the Russians that fed suspicions that the attack out of Kuwait was merely a diversion," the report's authors wrote. They cited as an example a document that was sent to Saddam on March 24, 2003, and captured by the US military after Baghdad fell.

The report said the Iraqi document was titled, "Letter from Russian official to presidential secretary concerning American intentions in Iraq." The Iraqi document said, "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 are impossible," and that as a result the US military would avoid urban combat.

"The strategy is to isolate Iraq from its western borders," the document added.

Central Command's war-fighting headquarters is at an encampment in the desert just outside Doha, Qatar.

The lead author of the Pentagon report, Kevin Woods, told reporters at a briefing that he was surprised to learn that the Russians had passed intelligence to Saddam, and he said he had no reason to doubt the authenticity of the Iraqi documents.

"But I don't have any other knowledge of that topic," Woods added, referring to the Russian link.

Brig. Gen. Anthony Cucolo, who appeared with Woods and also was closely involved in the project, said he believed such a link reflected a long-standing close economic relationship between Moscow and Baghdad.

"I don't see it as an aberration," Cucolo said. "I see it as a follow-on to economic engagement and economic interests."

In the end, one piece of Russian intelligence actually contributed to an important US military deception effort. By telling Saddam that the main attack on Baghdad would not begin until the Army's 4th Infantry Division arrived around April 15, the Russians reinforced an impression that US commanders were trying to catch the Iraqis by surprise.

The attack on Baghdad began well before the 4th Infantry arrived, and the government collapsed quickly.

As originally planned by Gen. Tommy Franks, the Central Command chief who ran the war, the 4th Infantry was to attack into northern Iraq from Turkey, but the Turkish government refused to go along. Meanwhile the 4th Infantry's tanks and other equipment remained on ships in the eastern Mediterranean for weeks - a problem that Franks sought to turn into an advantage by attacking Baghdad without them.

Based on a captured Iraqi document - a memo to Saddam from his Ministry of Foreign Affairs, dated April 2 - Russian intelligence reported through its ambassador that the American forces were moving to cut off Baghdad from the south, east and north, with the heaviest concentration of troops in the Karbala area. It said the Americans had 12,000 troops in the area, along with 1,000 vehicles.

Indeed, Karbala was a major step on the US invasion route along the Euphrates River to Baghdad. A key bridge over the Euphrates, near Karbala, was seized on April 2, permitting US forces to approach Baghdad from the southwest before Iraq could move sufficient forces from the north.

The Pentagon report also said the Russians told the Iraqis that the Americans planned to concentrate on bombing in and around Baghdad, cutting the road to Syria and Jordan and creating enough confusion to force residents to flee.

The Pentagon report, designed to help US officials understand in hindsight how Saddam and his military commanders prepared for and fought the war, paints a picture of an Iraqi government blind to the threat it faced, hampered by Saddam's inept military leadership and deceived by its own propaganda.

"The largest contributing factor to the complete defeat of Iraq's military forces was the continued interference by Saddam," the report said.