March 25, 2006

Iraqi Perspectives Project

The Department of Defense has just released an unclassified version of its Iraq Perspectives Project, a study of Operation Iraqi Freedom based on captured Iraqi documents and interviews with former regime officials and military officers. You can download the entire report (7.7MB PDF file) from the Joint Forces Command website.

The report is a good overview from the Iraqi perspective of events that led up to the war. There are a few errors, but the authors are not Middle East specialists - you can tell from the improper transliteration of the Arabic names and places - they are researchers. The most glaring error that should be corrected is on page 25:

...the link between the primary external threat (Iran) and the most significant internal one (the Iraqi Shi'ites) was never far from the considerations of Saddam and his closest advisors. In this regard, Iran was not the only culprit. Saddam also knew that the Americans had encouraged the Shi'ite uprising after Desert Storm and believed that the United States has sponsored a series of coup attempts in the 1990s.

The finding that Saddam believed that the United States had sponsored a series of coups is accurate - he did believe that, and it is partially true. The United States did sponsor at least one attempt in 1996 that failed.

As for "Saddam knew the the Americans had encouraged the Shi'ite uprising after Desert Storm" is inaccurate. Saddam may have believed it, but he couldn't "know" it, because it is not true. American encouragement to the Iraqi military occurred in mid-February, during the coalition air campaign and two weeks prior to the start of the ground campaign. It was the Iranians who encouraged the Shi'a, after the cessation of hostilities. Soon after American withdrawal from the outskirts of Al-Basrah, Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps operatives began infiltrating the Shi'a area to foment the uprising. The United States hoped that the Iraqi army would overthrow Saddam - and there was intelligence to support this hope - but they soon became so involved in putting down the threat to the country from the uprising in south and later in the Kurdish north that the chance to remove Saddam soon passed.

If you had to pick just one portion of this document to read, I recommend Chapter VI, "Doomed Execution," pages 123 to 156. It is a riveting account by the Iraqis of just how effective American military operations were in speed, accuracy and lethality. The U.S. forces moved so quickly and with such might that the Iraqis rarely had time to react, and when they did, they were annihilated.

There has been recent press reporting of Russia's support of the Iraqis, including the provision of intelligence. The report describes Saddam's views that the Russians, acting in concert with Iraq's other "friends" - China and France - would prevent a war, or failing that, stop it before he was removed from power. Much of this confirms what many analysts believed was Saddam's battle plan, "my friends will save me." Of course, he paved the way for this plan with bribes in the form of oil concessions. (Read my April 2003 piece, "Losing on his own Terms: Saddam's Battle Plan and Why It Didn't Work.")

According to a Russian military analyst, a Russian military intelligence unit operated in Iraq until the fall of Baghdad. They may have been the source of some of the purported intelligence support to the Iraqis. As you might expect, the Russians deny that any intelligence was provided to the Iraqis, but the Iraqi documents are quite clear.

Here are three references that are of note:

Page 119. The reference list includes "Russian Report on American Troop Dispositions in the Gulf," believed to be from March 2003.

Comment: Specific information from this document is not included in the unclassified version, but the very title suggests Russian intelligence support.

Pages 138-139 and 154. This is from a "Letter from Russian Official to Presidential Secretary Concerning American Intentions in the Gulf," which was shown to Saddam on March 24, 2003:

The information that the Russians have collected from their source inside the American Central Command in Doha is that the United States is convinced that occupying Iraqi cities are impossible, and that they have changed their tactic; now they are planning to spread across the Euphrates River from from Basra in the south to Al-Qa'im in the north, avoiding entering the cities. The strategy is to isolate Iraq from its western borders... Jordan has accepted the American 4th Mechanized Infantry Division; they were supposed to enter through Turkey, but after the Turkish Parliament refused, changed direction and are now in the Suez Canal heading to Al-Aqaba.
Comment: If in fact the Russians had a source inside the U.S. Central Command, this is not accurate reporting. While it is somewhat true that there was no intention to occupy Iraqi cities on the way to Baghdad, it was not a change of tactic - the ideal was to make a quick assault on the capital, the center of gravity of the regime, rather than get bogged down pacifying cities that did not matter to the the longevity of the regime.

Jordan never accepted the 4th Infantry Division - that report caused much confusion in the Iraqi leadership, causing them to have to worry about an attack from the west. Although the division did move through the Suez Canal, they were en route Kuwait to follow the 3rd Infantry Division up the Euphrates Valley.

Page 144 and 155. This is from a "Letter from Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Office of the President regarding Russian Intelligence," dated April 2, 2003, citing information provided the Russian ambassador:

1. The Americans were moving to cut off Baghdad from the south, east, and north. The heaviest concentration (12,000 troops plus 1,000 vehicles) was in the vicinity of Karbala.
2. The Americans were going to concentrate on bombing in and around Baghdad, cutting the road to Syria and Jordan and creating "chaos and confusion" to force the residents of Baghdad to flee.
3. The assault on Baghdad would not begin before the arrival of the 4th Infantry Division sometime around 15 April.
Comment: Actually, some of this was correct. The U.S. forces approached Baghdad up the Tigris Valley and the Euphrates Valley. The 3rd Infantry Division, moving up the Euphrates Valley, crossed the river at Karbala and moved on Baghdad. In taking the city, they did pretty much encircle it.

The timing of the assault on Baghdad was not delayed to await the arrival of the 4th Infantry Division - it started on April 7, keeping up the American momentum and not giving the Iraqis time to regroup and set up an effective defense.

Worth reading.