Russia fed details on invasion to Hussein

Documents likely to damage relations

March 25, 2006|By PETER SPIEGEL AND GREG MILLER | PETER SPIEGEL AND GREG MILLER,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Russian diplomats passed detailed, though sometimes inaccurate, tactical information about American troop movements to senior Iraqi officials even as U.S. troops closed in on Baghdad during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, according to Iraqi intelligence documents captured by the U.S. military that raise new questions about Moscow's role.

One of the documents, which purports to be a summary of a letter sent to Saddam Hussein's office by a Russian official, claims that Moscow had "sources inside the American Central Command in Doha" - the U.S. military's headquarters during the war - that Russia used to convey American intentions and troop movements to Baghdad.

Russia had well-known and extensive diplomatic and economic ties to Baghdad before the U.S.-led invasion and occasionally clashed with the Bush administration during the international debate over how to deal with Hussein's regime.

But the documents, made public in a study of the Iraqi military's decision-making during the war that was released by the Pentagon yesterday, are the first to assert that Russia actively passed sensitive military intelligence to Baghdad during the war itself.

The disclosures could jeopardize U.S.-Russian relations more than any single event since the end of the Cold War, analysts said. While cautioning that Moscow may have an explanation, the analysts pointed out that some of the details were so sensitive that they would be difficult for the government of President Vladimir V. Putin to justify.

"This is one step short of firing upon us themselves with Russian equipment," said Michael O'Hanlon, a military analyst with the Brookings Institute. "It's actively aiding and abetting the enemy tactically. It's hard to get more unfriendly than that."

Media officials at the Russian Embassy did not return calls seeking comment. An official who answered the phone in the military attache's office in the embassy said he was unfamiliar with the report.

One of the most sensitive revelations, which came in a captured letter detailing Russian intelligence on American troop movements, accurately informed Baghdad that U.S. forces were massing south of a narrow passage near the southern city of Karbala.

The April 2, 2003, letter, which was reportedly passed through Moscow's ambassador to Baghdad, informed Iraqi leaders that "the heaviest concentration of troops (12,000 troops plus 1,000 vehicles) was in the vicinity of Karbala." The 3rd Infantry Division, the main thrust of the U.S. invasion, eventually captured Baghdad by pushing through the Karbala gap just days later.

Other information provided by the Russians, however, was wildly inaccurate, particularly an assertion made both in the April 2 letter and an earlier March 24 document that the main American offensive would come from the western desert, including a major attack from Jordanian soil.

Kevin Wood, a retired Army officer who served as the senior researcher and chief author of the study, said he was surprised when he learned of the Russian actions and noted that while there was little corroboration of the contacts beyond the documents themselves, his team had no reason to doubt their authenticity.

Frederick Kagan, a Russia and defense expert at the American Enterprise Institute, said the actions would not be out of keeping with other efforts by Moscow at the time to advance Iraq's cause internationally.

"We knew the Russians were opposed to the sanctions; we knew they opposed the war," Kagan said. "I'm not terribly surprised."

Analysts also said it would be important to learn whether upper levels of the Russian government were involved with the Iraqi communications and added that the signals were more likely to have come from agents in the region rather than from Moscow.

Peter Spiegel and Greg Miller write for the Los Angeles Times.

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