U.S. Said To Misread Hussein On Arms
Report Cites Suspicions of Ruse

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 14, 2006

U.S. intelligence agencies misinterpreted Saddam Hussein's directions that his military do away with weapons of mass destruction or their elements, believing incorrectly the orders were a ruse meant to hide evidence of such weapons from United Nations inspectors, according to an article in Foreign Affairs magazine that includes excerpts of a recently declassified report by the Pentagon's Joint Forces Command.

In 2002, when U.S. intelligence intercepted an internal message between two Iraqi commanders talking about removing the words "nerve agents" from "wireless instructions," the analysts "had no way of knowing that this time the information reflected the regime's attempt to ensure it was in compliance with U.N. resolutions," according to the Pentagon report.

The same situation existed when U.S. intelligence learned of instructions to the Iraqi military to search "for any chemical agents" in order to "make sure the area is free of chemical containers, and write a report on it," the article says. The United States "viewed this information through the prism of a decade of prior deceit" and did not believe it.

The Foreign Affairs article was written by three defense analysts who helped draft the Pentagon report: Kevin Woods, an analyst in Washington; James Lacey, a military analyst for the U.S. Joint Forces Command; and Williamson Murray, a history professor at the U.S. Naval Academy.

The intelligence analyses became part of then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's Feb. 5, 2003, briefing of the U.N. Security Council, in which the United States attempted to justify military action against Iraq based on Hussein's failure to disclose his weapons of mass destruction. Piece by piece, the intelligence presented that day by Powell has been shown to have been wrong, and the newly released Joint Forces Command report of lessons learned from the Iraq war, completed in late 2003, adds to that embarrassing record.

Ali Hassan al-Majeed, now on trial with Hussein in Baghdad for his use of chemical bombs against Kurds, told U.S. interrogators that at some point before the U.S.-led invasion Hussein told his Revolutionary Command Council that Iraq did not have prohibited weapons of mass destruction, but Hussein refused to tell the world that. He "flatly rejected a suggestion that the regime remove all doubts to the contrary, going on to explain that such a declaration might encourage the Israelis to attack," according to the report.

The Foreign Affairs article, originally scheduled to be published in May, was released at the same time the New York Times on Sunday and Monday published excerpts of a book written jointly by its military reporter, Michael Gordon, and retired Marine Lt. Gen. Bernard Trainor, which was published this week and is based partly on the Joint Forces Command report.

Joint Forces Command personnel interviewed more than 100 Iraqi military officers and officials, and read through captured documents. Their book-length classified report focused primarily on the military details of the invasion and the rush to take Baghdad, as seen from both the U.S. and Iraqi sides.

David Kay, the first head of the Iraqi Survey Group that searched for Iraq's unconventional weapons after the March 2003 invasion, said yesterday he had read parts of the classified report in late 2003 and thought it was quite good.

A 1996 memo from the Iraqi Intelligence Service directing subordinates to "insure" there were not items related to prohibited weapons at their sites was the result of the earlier defection of Hussein's two sons-in-law, who told U.N. inspectors and U.S. intelligence personnel that chemical, biological and nuclear weapons had all been destroyed.

"Some stuff was still around because the sons-in-law, before defecting, had not carried out earlier instructions to destroy everything," Kay said.

By late 2002, with U.N. inspectors back in Iraq and the United States building up its invasion force, Hussein decided to try to convince the world that he had in fact given up his prohibited weapons programs.

Hussein "was insistent that Iraq would give full access to U.N. inspectors 'in order not to give President Bush any excuses to start a war,' " said the article, quoting the Pentagon report. "But after years of purposeful obfuscation, it was difficult to convince anyone that Iraq was not once again being economical with the truth," it concluded.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company