GIS Special Topical Studies
Iraq War 2003: Background, Lessons and Follow-On

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June 16, 2004

Major Review of Iraq War Offers Substantial Evidence of WMD, Terror Links, and Intelligence, Policy Failures

Analysis/Review. By Gregory R. Copley, Editor, GIS. The most comprehensive strategic overview of the 2003-04 Iraq War yet produced was published on June 15, 2004, providing detailed evidence of major US intelligence and policy-planning failures in the build-up to, and conduct of, the war. However, the report by the world’s leading authority on Islamist terrorism, Yossef Bodansky, also details significant evidence supporting the US Bush Administration’s contentions that Iraq was engaged in deep and profound engagement with al-Qaida and other Islamist and Palestinian terrorist groups, and that it had advanced programs for the development and use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

The report, The Secret History of the Iraq War1, provides, as well, massively-detailed evidence of the Iranian Government’s own preparation for the war, and its moves with Syria to capitalize on it and to ensure the break-up of Iraq in such a way that it would ensure a Shi’a zone linking Iran through Iraq to the ‘Alawite (Shi’a sect)-dominated Syria and through the Shi’a region of Lebanon to the Mediterranean.

Bodansky, who is also a major authority on Middle Eastern and Central Asian strategic issues, among other things, was for more than a decade Director of the US House of Representatives Task Force on Terrorism & Unconventional Conflict until June 1, 2004. His new report, with extensive documentation and a significant explanatory section on sources and methods used in the compilation of the data, relied not only on a massive documentation collection, but also on extensive input from Bodansky’s own human intelligence resources, which had earlier enabled the success of his books, Osama bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America2 (1999), and The High Cost of Peace: How Washington’s Middle East Policy Left America Vulnerable to Terrorism3 (2002), as well as his 1994 book, Terror! The Inside Story of the Terrorist Conspiracy in America4 (1994), and Target America: Terrorism in the US Today5 (1993). Bodansky’s track record of accurate intelligence, analysis and forecasting in these major books, as well as his two books on terrorism and conflict in the Balkans, and his numerous Congressional and published reports, mean that this new book — his most important yet — cannot be dismissed, and must form the basis of any evaluation of the Iraq war and the “war on terror” by professional intelligence, defense and policy officials in the US and around the world.

The report places the build-up to the war and the war’s conduct within its contextual surroundings, and — in a final section entitled Notes: The Historical Record, following a Postscript chapter which brings the work current through May 2004 — Bodansky highlights the lessons of Soviet deception operations from 1917 onwards, and the impact which Soviet thinking and later Russian professional guidance had on Iraqi Pres. Saddam Hussein’s key intelligence professionals. It was clear that, from the beginning of the Bush Administration’s moves to tackle Iraq, the Saddam Administration countered with a series of exceptionally well-planned and well-executed deception operations which had a profound impact on Coalition operations in the war.

For Bodansky, the real war began after the conventional military conflict, starting with the new Iraq intifada, which had been fanned into existence by a series of poorly-judged moves by Coalition officials in Iraq.

In his Postscript, Bodansky noted:

Far more than a security challenge for the occupying authorities, the Iraqi intifada is first and foremost a crucial political development, which threatens America’s ability to hold onto even the small victories it won during the invasion of Iraq.

... The Iraqi intifada will have a far greater impact on the ultimate outcome of America’s involvement with Iraq than even the fall of Saddam. Most of the current crisis and its aftermath could have been avoided by capitalizing on existing intelligence data. After all, back in late 2003, Tehran’s initial decision to provoke an Iraqi flare-up around the first anniversary of the US invasion became known to Western intelligence services almost immediately. Yet US intelligence failed to take notice and apprise Washington of Iran’s decision. Indeed, the US was surprised by the eruption of violence and the intensity of the fighting. Furthermore, Washington profoundly misread the motives behind the intifada — and thus its responses to date, both military and political, have only aggravated the overall situation. Once again, poor intelligence and a profound misunderstanding of the situation on the ground were at the root of Washington’s failures in Iraq.

The report gives comprehensive information, based on myriad sources, on the rôles and involvement of al-Qaida, the Iranian clerical leadership, the Syrian Government, the Palestinian movements under Yasir Arafat and others, and the Iranian/Syrian supported Shi’a movements, in the build-up to the conflict. As well, the book gives details of the movement of Iraqi WMD matériel and other Iraqi assets into Syria before the start of hostilities in 2003, and the movement of Iraqi WMD programs into Sudan and (predominantly) Libya in the late 1990s, as the Saddam Administration attempted to avoid the loss of its most important strategic assets.

These two aspects — Iraqi involvement with al-Qaida and the Iraqi WMD threat — were, rightly or wrongly, the elements chosen by the US Bush Administration as the causus belli for the war. These elements were claimed not to exist by those in the US and around the world who opposed the war. No-one, after reading The Secret History of the Iraq War, would deny that these claims by the Bush Administration were false, or that Pres. Saddam did not pose a threat to regional and Western interests. Equally, however, the book makes it clear that despite what might have been legitimate threats, the entire approach to the war was founded on poor intelligence and even worse understanding of the historical, cultural, religious, political and military factors, not just in Iraq, but in the entire region.

Bodansky also highlights the reality — still not acknowledged in the Western media or in policy circles — that the Iraqi Kurdish leaders have basically abandoned the US and have already proposed and have been promoting a strategy which was developed directly with the Iranian clerical leadership and which calls for the break-up of Iraq. This, in essence, is the result of a US policy which has failed to reflect an understanding of neither the Iraqi Kurds nor the neighboring Turks, and, as a result, Washington lost two of its allies.

Bodansky’s detailed description of the conflict between US perceptions and Turkish strategic realities highlights the real reasons why the Turkish Government rejected — and with sound reasons — the inflow of US forces to northern Iraq through Turkey. Moreover, the evidence shows the fact that the US also trammeled on Israel’s security, although the public portrayal of the situation, by both the US and the Arab world, was that Washington was protecting Israeli security. Nor did the US Government listen to Israeli advice on the threat, or the conduct of the war.

The report makes clear that Turkey had little option but to reject association with the US on the war, and yet US policymakers — particularly those who have traditionally regarded themselves as the key “American friends of Turkey” — consistently refused to believe that they could not make Turkish leaders work against the Turkish General Staff’s stated objectives by merely offering more money and aid to Turkey. As a result, the war plans of the US were in a shambles in the immediate build-up to the conflict. And when the major military operations began on March 20, 2003, it became quickly apparent that US forces were unprepared for the logistical challenge which faced them, and even less prepared for the fact that Iraqi forces performed far better than expected.

The Secret History of the Iraq War goes into detail — now possible because of the acquisition of documentation and access to sources hitherto unavailable — on Saddam’s plans to take the strategic initiative in the war, with the connivance of Iran, Syria and the Palestinian Authority, by attacking Israel in order to transform the war into an Arab-Israeli conflict. Indeed, detailed evidence is presented which highlights Syria’s complicity in supporting Iraq throughout the conflict and the fact that Syria, from that point until mid-2004, continued to demonstrate an increasing belief that the US would not attack Syria for its blatant rôle in both attempting to safeguard Saddam’s assets and officials, and in channeling weapons and fighters into the conflict.

Bodansky outlines the rôle of Syrian Pres. Bashar al-Asad in working to support both Saddam during the build-up to war, and the various Iranian-sponsored terrorist groups and individuals — most notably HizbAllah — in the planning of the proposed broader war against Israel. As well, he details the rôle of Firas Tlass, the son of the (now) retired Syrian Defense Minister, Lt.-Gen. Mustafa Tlass, in facilitating the transactions entailing the illegal sale of pre-war Iraqi oil and the acquisition of weapons systems for Saddam during the UN embargo. The book details the acquisition and deployment of an array of vehicles and weapons systems, some of which — like the AT-14 Kornet anti-tank missiles — the US Army denied were in the battlefield, but which went on to inflict significant damage on US armor. The detailed intelligence which Bodansky compiles is impressive and authoritative.

Bodansky’s reporting makes use of, among other sources, his apparent access to Russian military intelligence (GRU) files which reported, blow-by-blow, developments on the ground, matching this with Western and US reports.

But the book is not just the most detailed and professional overview of the actions leading up to, and through, the war; it is also a detailed analysis which reflects an understanding of the attitudes, historical backgrounds and actions of the various players in Iraq and the region. Bodansky gives credit to the skills and achievements of the military and intelligence officials in all the groups engaged in the conflict, and particularly to the hard-won intelligence experience which US forces won at a tactical level as the war progressed.

This growing skill at an operational, tactical level led to the US 4th Infantry Division’s 1st Combat Brigade team’s successful capture — with members of Task Force 121 — of former Pres. Saddam Hussein (by then a captive of his own people, who had drugged him and placed him in his coffin-like hole) on December 14, 2004, in the Al-Dawr area, near Tikrit. Bodansky’s report, in the chapter entitled Endgame, outlines the real details surrounding the capture, and how the intelligence was acquired to achieve it. What becomes clear from the book is the fact that the complex human and clan relationships which led to Saddam’s capture are far more relevant than Saddam’s capture in itself. By the time he had been captured, Saddam had already been bypassed to a large extent in Iraqi history; the future was already in the intifada and the rush by the various power blocs to secure the future for themselves.

In his Conclusion, Bodansky notes:

The American débâcle in Iraq is ... not the result of conspiracies and bureaucratic manipulations hatched by the “neo-cons”, or any other cabal, within the Bush Administration, but first and foremost the result of a generation of crippling emaciation of the intelligence agencies — particularly as it regards human intelligence/open-source intelligence on-site presence, and open-minded analysis — coming home to roost. The massive funding and undeniable zeal committed to US intelligence operations in the aftermath of September 11 and the ensuing declaration of war on terrorism  cannot, and indeed did not, counterbalance the decades of abuse and neglect of the US intelligence community. The morass in Iraq is therefore an accurate manifestation of the systemic failure, if not outright collapse, of American intelligence.

Postwar Iraq — the commonly-used euphemism for the Iraq aflame since the fall of Saddam’s statue — is the true reflection of this intelligence failure. However, in early 2004, Washington and the media were fixated on another aspect of the colossal intelligence failure — the WMD saga — mainly because of the dire political ramifications for the Bush Administration and the contentious elections of 2004. Although a minor issue by comparison, the issue of whether Saddam Hussein did in fact possess weapons of mass destruction cannot be ignored, and the issue has two distinct components: the quest for Saddam’s WMD production facilities, and the verification of Iraq’s unconventional operational capabilities.

... That the various search teams did not turn up any evidence of major WMD production facilities is not surprising because the United States had long known that Saddam moved virtually all production capabilities to Libya and Sudan somewhere between 1996 and 1998. Subsequently, in the Summer of 2002, with Tehran’s consent, the residual chemical weapons production capabilities were shipped to Iran, where they were first stored in two clusters of tunnels under the Zagros Mountains near Kermanshah, some 15 to 20 miles from the Iraqi border (near Baba-Abbas and Khorram-Abbad, and near Harour), and, on the eve of the war, transferred to Lavizan, near Tehran.

Bodansky cites the report of February 10, 1998, issued by the US House of Representatives Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, and entitled “The Iraqi WMD Challenge — Myths and Reality”. The transfer of major aspects of the WMD programs to Libya, along with, eventually, some 20,000 Iraqi scientists, engineers and other workers, was also extensively documented from sensitive sources by the Global Information System (GIS) well before the build-up to the Coalition war against Iraq, and confirmed by Bodansky. Bodansky also highlighted the unconventional WMD delivery systems experimented-with, and perhaps deployed, by Iraq, and the impact which intelligence of this capability had on US decisions to address the threat from Iraq.

The book highlights the frustrations which some of the Coalition partners had, particularly early in the formal phases of the conflict, in relying on US intelligence and policy judgments.

Had not the impending US Senate report on intelligence failures forced the “resignation” of US Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet on June 3, 2004, the publication of Bodansky’s authoritative book would have made his continued tenure virtually impossible. It is clear that, although the book absolutely vindicates the Bush Administration’s contention of the threat which Saddam posed (including his WMD capabilities and intentions, and his al-Qaida links), the US Administration will not find The Secret History of the Iraq War a pleasant read. US military intelligence professionals and the fighting military, however, already know that its essence is correct: they and their Coalition counterparts have borne the brunt of the challenge.

Bodansky has been right on so many occasions, and yet the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has routinely rushed to discredit him, despite the Agency’s consistent failure and his consistent success in accurately reflecting and forecasting the situation. There will be many in the Pentagon and in uniform in the US who will carry this book under their arm in the coming months; it holds the key to shaping future US and Coalition policies to make the most of the explosive condition which consumes the Middle East. Indeed, in understanding the long-term nature of Middle East instability, the clear challenge for the West and the Arab states (and Israel) now is the clerical leadership in Iran. Possibly the only hope which these states can have is the fact that the Iranian clerics are now faced themselves with challenges to their continued rule because of the growing discontent within Iran; this may lead to an overthrow of the clerical rule by the urban populations of Iran, supported by the Armed Forces and Pasdaran.

The other clear imperative for the European states, Japan, China and the Americas is the replacement of dependency on Arabian Peninsula and Persian Gulf oil by an increased focus on West African oil and gas.

There are many questions which will challenge readers of The Secret History of the Iraq War. This is the book which could change Washington.


1. Bodansky, Yossef: The Secret History of the Iraq War. New York, 2004: Regan Books division of HarperCollins. ISBN: 0-06-073679-8. Hardcover, 570pp. $27.95.

2. Bodansky, Yossef: Osama bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America. Roseville, California, 1999: Prima/Forum books.

3. Bodansky, Yossef: The High Cost of Peace: How Washington’s Middle East Policy Left America Vulnerable to Terrorism. Roseville, California, 2002: Prima/Forum books.

4. Bodansky, Yossef: Terror! The Inside Story of the Terrorist Conspiracy in America. New York, 1994: SPI Books.

5. Bodansky, Yossef: Target America: Terrorism in the US Today. New York, 1993: SPI Books.