Report: Saddam Doubted War Would Come
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
A newly released Pentagon report says Russia gave intelligence on U.S. troop movements and plans to Saddam Hussein in the early days of the Iraq war. But the information the Russians reportedly provided was incorrect, and it may actually have helped U.S. forces take the Iraqis by surprise.
The Pentagon report was ordered to try to determine what Iraqi leaders were thinking before and during the war. It's based on Iraqi documents and on interviews with captured Iraqi officials.
NPR's Vicky O'Hara joins me now, and, Vicky, what did the Russians tell the Iraqi government?
VICKY O: Well, according to this report, the Russians told the Iraqis that the main attack on Baghdad was not going to begin until about April 15. That was after the Army's Fourth Infantry Division was supposed to have arrived. But, as you recall, the Fourth Infantry got held up because Turkey refused to let U.S. forces go through its territory, so the U.S. went ahead without the Fourth Infantry and Baghdad fell. And this report says that the information, this information about Russia's role, came from captured Iraqi documents, and those documents, it says, claimed that the Russians had a source inside the U.S. military command who was funneling information to the Russian ambassador in Baghdad, who then gave it to the Iraqis.
SIEGEL: Does the report say why the Russians were providing the information to Iraq?
HARA: No, it doesn't. It doesn't assess that or the quality of the Russian intelligence or anything having to do with motivations, although it does note the strong economic ties that existed between Russia and Saddam's regime.
SIEGEL: Okay, so a time of attack. What else does the report say the Iraqis did, or the Russians did?
HARA: Well, it doesn't talk about the Russians so much, but it talks a lot about what was going on in Saddam's inner circle in the days leading up to the war. And this report describes a regime that was so paralyzed by its culture of duplicity and revenge as to be unable to really recognize or deal with the threat posed by a possible U.S. invasion. And Saddam, the report says, didn't believe there was even going to be an invasion because he thought the Russians and French would be able to stop it. He also apparently saw the U.S. as some sort of paper tiger that would run at the first sign of blood if it did invade. And it describes his belief that his heroic Iraqi forces would inflict such casualties on the Americans that if they invaded they'd pull out without ever reaching Baghdad.
SIEGEL: What does it say about weapons of mass destruction?
HARA: The researchers and the principal author of the report, briefed people at the Pentagon today. And the main author, Kevin Wood, said that not one of the Iraqi officials he interviewed claimed to have any personal knowledge of weapons of mass destruction. But he also said that many of the people he interviewed did say it was entirely possible that other Iraqi officials did have that kind of knowledge, which underlines what was a real problem for Iraq in the planning for the war, which is that Saddam didn't trust anyone, and he made sure that no one had a complete picture of what was happening.
SIEGEL: Are the Pentagon researchers convinced that their Iraqi informants, the people they interviewed, are telling them the truth?
HARA: No, they weren't convinced at all. So they say that they tried to sort of triangulate every interesting piece of information by conducting interviews with other people on the same issue, separate interviews. And they also tried to crosscheck the information with the data that was provided in hundreds of thousands of captured Iraqi documents.
SIEGEL: And this report, this is an effort by the Pentagon to try to figure out what the Iraqis were up to in response to or anticipating what America was doing at that time.
HARA: That's correct. The Pentagon always does what it calls a lessons learned review after operations. And they started that review after the war, during and after the war, and then somebody realized that the Iraqi side of the equation was really important in terms of getting a full picture of what was going on, so they then sent a team of researchers, four to five people, to begin interviewing captured Iraqi officials and going through all the documents. It's about 200 pages. It's, this is the unclassified version.
SIEGEL: Is this a work in progress or is it finished?
HARA: It's not completely finished, they say, because there are so many documents and they're still going through them. And they say that this report is a first step, and they expect to come up with additional information.
SIEGEL: Thank you Vicky.
HARA: You're welcome.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Vicky O'Hara, reporting from the Pentagon.
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