Regime Thought War Unlikely, Iraqis Tell U.S.

Posted in Iraq | 13-Feb-04 | Author: Thom Shanker| Source: The New York Times

WASHINGTON, Feb. 11 — A complacent Saddam Hussein was so convinced that war would be averted or that America would mount only a limited bombing campaign that he deployed the Iraqi military to crush domestic uprisings rather than defend against a ground invasion, according to a classified log of interrogations of captured Iraqi leaders and former officers.

Mr. Hussein believed that a "casualty averse" White House would order a bombing campaign that Iraq could withstand, according to the secret report, prepared for the Pentagon's most senior leadership and dated Jan. 26. And the Iraqi Defense Ministry, in a grand miscalculation, believed that any ground offensive would come across the Jordanian border.

The study, a rough-draft history of the war from the perspective of Iraqi leaders, offers a scathing history of a Stalinist, paranoid leadership circle in Baghdad that guaranteed its own destruction. The interrogations yielded a portrait of a government disconnected from reality in peace and in war, where members of Mr. Hussein's inner circle routinely lied to him and each other about Iraqi military capacities.

The findings were described by senior Defense Department officials and military officers at the Pentagon and in the Middle East who have read it or who have been briefed on its contents.

The interrogations also reveal flaws in the Pentagon's prewar operations, particularly the information campaign to demoralize and sway Iraqis from commanders down to foot soldiers.

Two of the most celebrated American information operations — a campaign in which Arabic-speakers working for the United States government called private telephone numbers of senior Iraqi officials, and the widespread leaflet drops onto ground and air-defense forces — failed to persuade Iraqis to desert or join the Americans, according to the detainees.

Even so, both campaigns scored unexpected successes, the Iraqis revealed during their interrogations.

When a wave of calls went out to the private telephone numbers of selected officials inside Iraq, asking them to turn against Mr. Hussein and avoid war, the Arabic speakers making the calls were so fluent that the recipients did not believe the calls were from Americans.

Instead, the Iraqis believed the calls were part of a "loyalty test" mounted by Mr. Hussein's secret services, the officials said during questioning. Afraid of arrest, incarceration, torture and even death, they refused to cooperate.

But as a result, the officers limited their calls or stopped using those telephones altogether, hampering their ability to communicate in the critical days before war.

The military's collection and analysis of interrogations was compiled by the Joint Forces Command in a report, "Iraqi Perspectives on O.I.F. Major Combat Operations," using the initials for "Operation Iraqi Freedom," the Bush administration's name for the war effort.

Late Wednesday, the officer in charge of the Joint Forces Command, Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani Jr., said in a telephone interview that the report was written as part of a "very broad gauge" effort "to study what types of lessons we can gather when we go into combat."

Admiral Giambastiani refused to discuss the contents of the report, citing its classification. But he did say the study was unusual for the American military in that it comprehensively compiled the views of an adversary to produce "a dynamic, interactive, real-time diagnosis, versus the usual static post-mortem."

He added, "We like finding ground truth."

The study details problems with another information operation, and quotes Iraqis saying that the millions of leaflets — carrying statements like "Beware! Do not track or fire on coalition aircraft!" — did not incite desertions. But the leaflets intimidated Iraqi soldiers who realized that American bombers could just as easily drop their payloads on their locations, despite Iraq's vaunted air defenses, according to the detained officials.

Officials said that the Iraqi television broadcast system, and the telephone system linked by wires and fiber-optic cables, were unexpectedly resistant to attack.

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