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Washington hawks under fire for ignoring advice

by Tricky Dick Saturday, Mar. 29, 2003 at 6:57 AM

BRITISH and American intelligence badly miscalculated the level of resistance that coalition forces would encounter in Iraq.

From The London Times (UK)

March 28, 2003

Washington hawks under fire for ignoring advice

By Richard Beeston and Tom Baldwin

BRITISH and American intelligence badly miscalculated the level of resistance that coalition forces would encounter in Iraq, with analysts predicting that troops would reach Baghdad in days and defeat President Saddam Hussein in a matter of weeks.

As thousands more US soldiers began deploying in the Gulf for what could be a campaign lasting months, there were growing questions in London and Washington over the failure to anticipate the stubborn resistance being encountered.

At the start of the war British military officers were confident that the southern city of Basra would fall quickly, that the Shia Muslims in the south would rise up against Saddam and that there would be token resistance on the road to Baghdad. "The intelligence assessment seriously underestimated what to expect," one Whitehall source, who briefed Downing Street on the dangers before the war, said.

His advice was largely ignored, even though Saddam was openly making careful preparations to defend himself. He armed and trained irregular forces, bribed tribal leaders and used propaganda to portray the looming war as an attempt by America to conquer the country and steal its oil.

It is understood that British intelligence had been receiving reports from inside Iraq. It strongly suggested that the regime was weak and would topple if pushed, particularly in the southern city of Basra, which is the area allocated to the British forces.

Part of that assessment was based on the uprisings of 1991, when thousands of Shias rebelled against Saddam and were brutally suppressed by his forces.

British government sources admitted yesterday that there had been a "general expectation" on both sides of the Atlantic that "the Iraqi people would revolt against Saddam as they had in 1991" or at least that there might be coup "within the higher echelons" of the regime.

One foreign intelligence source, with good first-hand knowledge of Iraq, said that this analysis was flawed. He insisted that the Shias may hate Saddam, but that they have no love for the Americans and British, who let them down 12 years ago and whose motives today are greeted with suspicion.

"The Shias of the south fought hard against Iran for eight years during the Iran-Iraq War. They were Iraqis first and Shias second. There is a strong nationalist feeling in Iraq and Saddam is an expert at exploiting it," he said.

Much of the blame in London was directed at Washington. Most of the shared US-British intelligence is said to have been about troop movements and whether Saddam possesses weapons of mass destruction. There are now doubts about the veracity of at least some of this information.

"Plans have been driven by US intelligence," a Whitehall source said. "But we have been aware for some time that they rely, perhaps too much, on radio intercepts and satellite photography."

The Foreign Office is believed to have been concerned at the credence attached in Washington to information from Iraqi exiles with political connections to the Bush Administration. They widely predicted that the Iraqi Armed Forces would defect as soon as the war broke out.

Criticism is also growing within Washington against hawks in the Bush Administration. They were supremely confident that America’s overwhelming military might and its tactic of "shock and awe" would cause the Iraqi military to buckle and leave the regime’s hierarchy isolated. Toby Dodge, an expert on Iraq at Warwick University, said that much of this assessment had been based on wishful thinking by the neo-conservatives, who lacked first-hand experience of modern Iraqi society and politics.

Reports in Washington yesterday suggested that intelligence analysts at the CIA and the Pentagon did warn the Administration of the dangers of expecting a quick victory in Iraq, but that the warnings were ignored by the White House and the Pentagon.

This view was confirmed by leading hawks in the Administration in the run-up to the war. Only weeks before the offensive was launched, Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, complained privately that senior Pentagon officers were being far too cautious.

Dick Cheney, the Vice-President, and Paul Wolfowitz, Mr Rumsfeld’s deputy, also predicted that American troops would be greeted as liberators.

In December last year two senior Pentagon officers, General Eric Shinseki, the commandant of the US Marine Corps, and General James Jones, the commander of US forces in Europe, questioned the assumption that the Iraqi regime would collapse after a US assault. They called for more preparation for "worst-case scenarios" and insisted that detailed planning be made for a siege of Baghdad.

Downing Street emphasised that Tony Blair, along with the rest of the Cabinet, had steered clear of predicting a swift war and easy victory in Iraq. Mr Blair did say, however, said that the Iraqi people would benefit from regime change and that as "the victims of Saddam" they would prefer to be led by anyone but him.

Although the Ministry of Defence is understood to have taken a back seat in war planning, it successfully counselled the Pentagon against believing some early predictions that Saddam could be removed through air power and as few as 50,000 ground troops. One official said last night: "The Iraqi Government could still implode. Don’t forget that in Kosovo and Afghanistan things changed very rapidly just when the media was proclaiming the military campaign had gone wrong. Iraqi civilians have to believe that Saddam is finished and that we will not let them down. They have been bitten once (in 1991) and may now be twice shy.

"But it is true that the speed with which Kabul was liberated raised expectations."

What they said

‘Removing Saddam will be a blessing to the Iraqi people’ -- Tony Blair, March 19

‘It is not knowable how long that conflict would last. It could last, you know, six days, six weeks. I doubt six months’ -- Donald Rumsfeld, February 7

‘I really do believe we will be greeted as liberators’ -- Vice-President Dick Cheney

‘If I were a betting man, which I am not -- hopefully (we will be in Baghdad) in the next three or four days’ -- RAF Group Captain Al Lockwood, March 21. (By Day Six US forces were still 60 miles away)

Colin Powell describes progress as remarkable and says the campaign will be successful in ‘the not-too-distant future’ -- March 25

‘Umm Qasr is pretty damn well taken. We are mopping up right now’ -- Captain Rick Crevier, US Marines, Friday March 21. (Royal Marines commandos declared the port secure on Tuesday March 25 after three days of fierce fighting)

Pentagon officials said on Friday March 21 that all 8,000 men in the 51st Iraqi Mechanised Division based in Basra had surrendered. The unit went on fighting. On Tuesday March 25, Donald Rumsfeld said that coalition forces had captured about 3,500 Iraqi prisoners in total

‘We promised this would be the most powerful campaign ever seen, and it will be. It will be unlike any we have seen in the history of warfare, with breathtaking precision, almost eye-watering speed, persistence, agility and lethality" -- Vice-Admiral Timothy Keating, US Navy. By Day Six US forces were bogged down by heavy resistance and bad weather 60 miles south of Baghdad

‘The Iraqi people understand what this crisis is about. Like the people of France in the 1940s, they view us as their hoped-for liberators’ -- Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Defence Secretary, March 11

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