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Senator says Bush cloaked likelihood of long, deadly war in `softest scenario'

WASHINGTON—The Bush administration sold the American public on "the softest scenario" about the difficulty of a U.S. invasion of Iraq, even though military and intelligence officials warned about tough Iraqi resistance, a former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Tuesday.

Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., who chaired the Intelligence Committee until January, said military and CIA officials "were appropriately cautious" in developing war plans for several scenarios in Iraq, including "the potential for stiff resistance."

"But the political side of this administration gave a strong sell on the softest scenario, of `flowers on the tanks,' " said Graham, referring to administration expectations that Saddam Hussein's forces would crumble and Iraqis would welcome U.S. forces.

"There was not very much willingness to talk about the scenario that seems to be coming to pass—resistance leading to a longer war and, unfortunately, potentially greater U.S. casualties," Graham added in an interview with Knight Ridder newspapers.

On the eve of war last week, top officials began to warn about the costs of war. President Bush, on the night the invasion began, said the conflict "could be longer and more difficult than some predict."

Graham, who is gearing up for a presidential campaign, recalled that last fall the Intelligence Committee saw classified intelligence that covered several scenarios for war with Iraq, and many top officials shied away from predicting the swift collapse of Saddam's regime.

"The characterization (by the Bush administration) that this was going to be quick and easy with limited casualties and celebrating masses did not divert the military from its job, preparing for whatever eventuality," Graham said. "But it did affect the attitude of the American people about what kind of war to expect."

Last October, Graham voted against the resolution authorizing Bush to use force against Iraq, saying it was a "diversion" from more important targets in the war on terrorism.

Graham said that some of the reasons given for the war were based on "selective intelligence to justify a decision to go to war that had already been made."

He cited the administration's warning about Iraqi plans to buy uranium oxide from Niger, later shown to be based on forged documents, and the emphasis on a close connection between Iraq, al-Qaida and the Sept. 11 attacks.

"I heard on TV a U.S. solider in the Gulf say `I'll do anything I can to avenge Sept. 11,' when there is no evidence of that connection," Graham said.

The Bush administration has said Saddam's government sheltered and helped train some terrorists and could supply terrorist groups with weapons of mass destruction.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Bob Graham