In February 2003, a month before the United States and coalition forces invaded Iraq, British intelligence received reports that Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi was establishing sleeper cells in Baghdad that would attack U.S. forces after they occupied the city, according a report on British prewar intelligence released yesterday in London.
In a prediction that has proved deadly accurate, the British Joint Intelligence Committee in March 2003 wrote, "These cells apparently intend to attack U.S. targets using car bombs and other weapons," according to yesterday's report by the Butler Commission. In the past year, Zarqawi has publicly claimed to have put together an Iraqi network that has committed dozens of bombings and killings, including the beheading of a Bulgarian truck driver that was revealed yesterday.
The March 12, 2003, JIC report also warned that "al Qaeda-associated terrorists continued to arrive in Baghdad in early March." Summarizing this information, the Butler panel noted that the JIC "did warn of the possibility of terrorist attacks on coalition forces in Baghdad."
A senior U.S. intelligence official said yesterday that the CIA was made aware of the reporting "simultaneously." The CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency passed on warnings to Bush administration policymakers that U.S. forces would probably be attacked by "stay behind" Iraqi forces and Islamic terrorists who would be drawn to Iraq by the invasion, officials said.
The U.S. inability to dismantle Zarqawi's network has become one of the most prominent examples of the failure to tackle the post-invasion insurgency and to provide security for Iraq's fledgling interim government.
Zarqawi, who has operated independently of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, has played a leading role in organizing terrorist operations in Iraq. He recently threatened to kill Iraq Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.
Last January, U.S. intelligence intercepted a Zarqawi letter intended for bin Laden. Zarqawi, a Sunni, said his plan was to create internal clashes with the Shiites, who he believed would cooperate with the Americans. He said that if an Iraqi government took hold, his insurgency would "wither" but he would take up the Islamic cause elsewhere.
The Butler report discusses how British intelligence operations related to those of the CIA and other U.S. agencies.
For example, British intelligence based its prewar 2002 assessment that Iraq was seeking uranium in Africa on reports that Baghdad had made such inquiries in the Congo and in Niger more than two years earlier, according to the Butler report.
It showed that British and CIA intelligence were relying on similar, though less than conclusive, reports that Iraqi officials had visited several African countries in 1999. Last week, a Senate committee report on U.S. prewar intelligence concluded that the CIA overstated what it knew about Iraq's attempts to procure uranium in Africa. President Bush, in his 2003 State of the Union speech, cited Iraqi efforts to procure uranium in Africa.
When it came to Niger, whose main export was uranium, the JIC "judged that Iraqi purchase of uranium could have been the subject of discussions," the Butler report said.
In 2002, the British got separate intelligence reports about the Congo and Niger, but they were inconclusive as to whether any deals with Iraq were reached, according to the Butler report.
However, based on what was known in 2002, the Butler panel concluded that references in Britain's September 2002 dossier that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium in Africa and its repetition in Bush's State of the Union address in January 2003 were "well founded."
More recently, the Butler panel learned from International Atomic Energy Agency officials that the leader of the Iraqi delegation told IAEA that he and the others went to Niger in February 1999 to invite that country's president to Iraq, not to seek uranium. The Niger president was supposed to visit Baghdad in April 1999, but he died before the trip.
David Kay, the former chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, said in an interview that his group had discovered a memo in Iraq from Congolese officials offering to sell the Saddam Hussein government items including uranium. He added that it had a note in Arabic saying the country was under too much scrutiny at the time for such a deal.
Unlike the much more voluminous Senate committee report, the Butler Commission included in its inquiry an analysis of how British intelligence performed on weapons of mass destruction in four situations outside Iraq.
In each case it concluded that, unlike the shortcomings in Iraq, there "were to a greater or lesser extent success stories" that led to the exposure of otherwise covert programs. In two cases, uncovering the network of Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan and persuading Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi to discontinue his nuclear and chemical programs, the Butler panel concluded close cooperation with U.S. agencies contributed to the success.