The New York Times
A Nation at War
March 26, 2003

Decade of Plans to Topple Hussein Yield Mixed Results


WASHINGTON, March 25 _ For more than a decade, the C.I.A. and the Pentagon have tried to develop plans to divide and crack the government of Saddam Hussein.

During the first days of the war, those plans have not gone as well as some officials envisioned, despite some successful recruiting of human intelligence sources close to the Iraqi leader and a host of high-technology efforts that have helped prepare the battlefield.

Setbacks, including the apparent failure to kill Mr. Hussein on the first night of the war or to cut off communications between the leadership and its forces, have also revived simmering tensions between the C.I.A. and the Pentagon.

Optimism about the fragility of the Hussein government was shared by policy makers at the White House, Pentagon and even within the C.I.A., though some longtime intelligence analysts say they had warned of the stiff opposition American forces might face.

Senior officials now acknowledge that few Iraqis in the leadership, the military or even in towns and villages seem prepared to resist Mr. Hussein's rule until certain of his death or removal from power.

"This is the head-of-the-snake conundrum," said one senior official who was deeply involved in the planning for a post-Hussein Iraq. "No one wants to commit themselves until it is clear regime change is happening."

The C.I.A. and the military's Special Operations forces are playing crucial roles in the war, both on the battlefield and in continuing efforts to disrupt Mr. Hussein's leadership. However, the C.I.A.'s role is markedly different than it was during the war in Afghanistan, in part because American intelligence has had many years to gather on-the-ground information about Iraq since the Persian Gulf war.

Using e-mail and cellphones, intelligence and military officials have kept up efforts to persuade Mr. Hussein's inner circle to defect, recruiting family members, college classmates and even overseas business associates of Iraq's top officials in the effort, government officials said.

Military intelligence officers, with the help of the National Security Agency, prepared files on Iraqi officers identified for some of these secret communications. Military planners have spared portions of Iraq's telephone and communications networks from the bombing so they can be used as part of this program to undermine Mr. Hussein's government. Meanwhile, new intelligence collected by the F.B.I. from Iraqis questioned in the United States, about where Iraqi leaders may be hiding and which buildings have been "masked" as cover for military operations, has been sent to the Pentagon, officials said today.

The C.I.A. has already set up a Baghdad station outside Iraq _ awaiting only a final order to move in, officials said.

A series of Special Operations missions undertaken in the early hours of the war to destroy communications and observation positions that intelligence reports said were vital to Mr. Hussein's ability to command Iraq's military forces apparently succeeded in severely eroding Baghdad's ability to communicate with its main military commanders.

But the Iraqi leadership's ability to communicate has not been totally shattered.

"No doubt there is still some command and control," said one senior Pentagon official with access to the daily bomb damage reports. "We don't know if it's enough to orchestrate a really effective defense of Baghdad."

Hybrid Function, a Guarded Outlook

In the mid-1990's, the C.I.A.'s two major covert action programs, one based in northern Iraq and a second in Jordan, had been thoroughly penetrated and destroyed by the Iraqis.

That history may help explain why some intelligence analysts have been more guarded in their assessments of the Iraqi government's fragility over the past year than have some Bush administration policy makers.

"That whole bunch came in with a more optimistic view," one official said.

Now that war with Iraq has begun, the C.I.A.'s role in Iraq is much different than the one it played in Afghanistan, where the agency provided crucial help in linking up small groups of American Special Forces with local tribal warlords with whom the C.I.A. already had developed relationships.

This time around, though, the military has had extensive experience with Iraq and the Persian Gulf and doesn't need to rely on the C.I.A. to go in first and develop contacts, officials said.

As a result, the C.I.A.'s role is a hybrid, a combination of the small-unit, paramilitary campaign that the agency used in Afghanistan and the more traditional function of providing intelligence support to the military. The C.I.A. has already sent small numbers of officers into Iraq to work with Special Operations units.

In addition to its paramilitary activities, the C.I.A. is helping support conventional forces in the land and air battles in southern and central Iraq, including providing intelligence for bombing raids and information about the whereabouts of the Iraqi leadership.

But at least in the opening phases of the war, the C.I.A. is not directly involved with Special Forces in the hunt for chemical or biological weapons.

Making a target of the Iraqi leadership is a major focus of the C.I.A. Before the war began, it formed lists of Iraqi leaders close to Mr. Hussein who should be detained by American forces. Officials said a "couple hundred" Iraqi leaders were included on the list.

Meanwhile, the agency had developed at least one source close to Mr. Hussein who was able to disclose the Iraqi leader's location for American bombing last Wednesday night.

The C.I.A.'s role is also certain to expand in Iraq once the war is over. The new station chief, a senior officer with extensive experience in the Middle East, has been operating an interim station in a nearby Persian Gulf country for about the last two months, as the agency prepares to support American-led efforts to reorganize the country after Mr. Hussein's fall. The C.I.A. has not had a Baghdad station since the first gulf war, when the United States shut its embassy in the Iraqi capital.


Seizing Assets and Gathering Data

Using tips and intelligence assessments, Special Operations forces from the Air Force, Army and Navy have been the military's premier weapon to prepare the battlefield for war.

In the opening missions of the conflict, these forces have seized airfields and captured oil facilities, and are still searching for intelligence that could reshape battle plans.

Intelligence officials had predicted that Mr. Hussein had hidden chemical or biological weapons in Iraq, and Pentagon officials created a war plan based on the assessments that Iraqi forces would launch use these weapons.

The concern about such weapons is why, in the opening hours of the war, American and Australian Special Operations forces flew deep into the country and seized or blew up command posts identified by American intelligence as those controlling the use of chemical and biological weapons far from Baghdad.

Intelligence officials had warned that regional commanders were given operational control over these weapons, with standing orders by Mr. Hussein to use them if he were killed or could not communicate his orders.

Special Operations forces have already found documents in western Iraq that offered tantalizing indications of where to find banned weapons facilities, senior military officials said. However, no biological or chemical weapons caches have yet been found.

In early missions, they also seized airfields in western and northern Iraq that can serve as forward operating bases deep in the country, allowing American-led forces to complicate Iraqi planning as multiple fronts are opened in the war to complement the major land offensive coming from the south.

American intelligence had also warned that Mr. Hussein might set the oil fields and terminals ablaze, or open their spigots to spill oil into the Persian Gulf, as he did during the first gulf war in 1991.

Secret missions have seized the offshore terminals and portions of the oil infrastructure.

Small numbers of Army Special Forces, often called the Green Berets, infiltrated northern Iraq and have been supplemented in recent days by a larger number of troops.

Their missions have included coordinating war plans with anti-Hussein forces _ repeating the alliance they forged with anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan _ and gathering intelligence on Iraqi troop movements, keeping an eye on oil fields and designating air targets.

That campaign, too, was built on intelligence indicating that the Hussein government was highly centralized.

A significant number of important government military and communications installations were hit in the first 48 hours, according to senior Pentagon officials.

A Flood of Relief Has Been Delayed

In the weeks before the invasion, White House officials built a strategy that relied on an intelligence assessment that suggested that pacification would come quickly in southern Iraq. Just behind the "liberation troops," officials said, would come a flood of humanitarian relief. When the residents of Baghdad saw or heard of how American forces were bringing in aid, providing medical care and turning basic government functions over to an interim government, the thinking went, they would know that a new era had arrived.

But that plan has suffered delays. Because the military bypassed the cities, and because the fedayeen Saddam _ the guerrilla units operating in cities and town across the country _ are still active, American forces have not secured the areas where the occupation was supposed to begin. As a result, the millions of meals and the aid that was supposed to win popular support remain locked in cargo containers. President Bush's declaration on Sunday that the aid would begin flowing within 36 hours now looks optimistic.

"The expectations were wrong," said Judith Kipper, the director of the Middle East Forum here. "This image that the Iraqis would be dancing in the streets, presenting troops with cookies and flowers, was a bit misguided. We need to get a sense of reality about this."

A senior administration official said more than a month ago that one of the great mysteries of the early days of the war was whether "we will be greeted with cheers, jeers, or shots." At the end of the first week, the answer seems to be all three.

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