Thursday, March 30, 2006

General Voices Doubt On Iraq Files

By Demetri Sevastopulo, Washington
London Financial Times
March 30, 2006

The top US general this week suggested that the Pentagon had not adequately vetted documents that allege Russia passed intelligence about US troop movements to Saddam Hussein early on during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

On Tuesday – the same day that Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, asked Russia to investigate the claims – General Peter Pace, the chairman of the joint chiefs, suggested that the US had unresolved questions about the claims contained in Iraqi documents captured after the invasion.

“We still don’t know whether or not the translation itself is 100 per cent accurate,” Gen Pace told reporters at the Pentagon. “We don’t know if this is real information or disinformation. There’s all kinds of pieces of this that need to be looked into.”

According to the documents included in the Iraqi Perspectives Project, a US military report on how the Iraqi leadership viewed the US invasion, the Russian ambassador to Iraq gave the former Iraqi president intelligence that came from US Central Command, which oversees the war in Iraq.

Bryan Whitman, Pentagon spokesman, on Wednesday said the Joint Forces Command, which compiled the report, had taken care with the translation, which he said was accurate.

Earlier this week Centcom said it could not vouch for the documents, and was not planning an investigation. Yesterday a spokeswoman said the previous statement had not been properly vetted, adding that an investigation “has not been opened at this time”. But she pointed to comments by Donald Rumsfeld, US defence secretary, that the whole issue “merits looking into”.

Mr Whitman declined to say whether the Pentagon was probing the claims. Asked whether Ms Rice’s raising of the issue with Moscow meant she had also asked Mr Rumsfeld to investigate, he said: “I wouldn’t make that assumption.”

The Russian foreign ministry on Wednesday said the claims were a political attempt by the US to divert attention from the violence in Iraq. One official said the US had not previously raised the issue with Moscow.

Mr Rumsfeld on Tuesday said he was briefed on the report “many months” ago, but was not informed about the Russia claims. President George W. Bush was also presented with the report last year, according to Cobra II, a recently published book by Michael Gordon, a New York Times reporter, and retired General Bernard Trainor.

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