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Intelligence analyst describes problems with war planning

WASHINGTON—Planning for the Iraq war was hobbled by tensions between Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and military planners over the staying power of Saddam Hussein's regime, by leaks of highly classified war plans and by little attention to the war's aftermath, according to a new insider account.

A top intelligence analyst at the U.S. military's Central Command writes that near-constant demands from Rumsfeld and his aides for new versions of the war plan using fewer American troops wasted time and diverted attention from fleshing out a blueprint for the March 2003 invasion.

Civilians in Washington, convinced that Saddam's regime would topple easily, "injected numerous ideas into the dialogue, many of which were amateurish and unrealistic," wrote the analyst, Gregory Hooker.

Many of those ideas were discarded, but the conflicting approaches never were resolved before the invasion, he says.

Hooker's account was published this week by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The cover of the study identifies Hooker as CENTCOM's senior intelligence analyst for Iraq. He has done several stints in the country, including as a U.N. weapons inspector in the 1990s.

Hooker's account echoes other assessments of the run-up to the war in Iraq, but it's one of the first on-the-record accounts by someone in his position as a military intelligence analyst, and comes amid renewed debate over Iraq's future, as the country's interim government faces a continuing insurgency and rising ethnic tensions.

Hooker adds some new details.

For example, he says some officers at Florida-based CENTCOM were so stunned by leaks of the classified war plans to the news media that they assumed they must have been part of a U.S. propaganda campaign to unsettle Saddam.

"To some planners, this theory seemed the only logical way to explain the seemingly outrageous and reckless revelations of classified material by senior officials," he wrote.

In fact, the leaks were apparently part of a battle among top policymakers in Washington over whether to invade Iraq with a relatively small force and lightening-quick maneuvers, as many Pentagon civilians favored, or the larger, more traditional force that senior generals preferred.

Hooker also critiques the planning for postwar Iraq, which he says got little attention in planning sessions and war games.

Postwar planning was fractured among civilian agencies and, unlike combat operations, lacked an overall commander or explicit plan, Hooker wrote. "This turmoil was evident to CENTCOM planners," he adds.

In a statement in response to Knight Ridder's inquiries, Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said: "These are old, tired allegations that have been previously addressed over the past two years."

Then-CENTCOM commander Gen. Tommy Franks "and his CENTCOM team developed a war plan for Iraq—a plan that was careful and detailed with scope for daring adjustments and improvisation. It was a plan that reflected the essence of our defense strategy that recognized that our intelligence is never perfect."

As for postwar planning, Whitman said, viewing it "through the window of a single CENTCOM analysis would be a grave injustice to the entire post-war planning effort," which involved a broad interagency effort.

Central Command had no comment on the study, despite several calls and e-mails.

President Bush, in a speech Wednesday night, made a rare acknowledgement that preparations for postwar Iraq were lacking.

"You know, one of the lessons we learned from our experience in Iraq is that, while military personnel can be rapidly deployed anywhere in the world, the same is not true of U.S. government civilians," Bush said in a speech to the International Republican Institute. "The process of recruiting and staffing the Coalition Provisional Authority was lengthy and it was difficult," he said, referring to the U.S.-led body that ran Iraq until the return of sovereignty last June.

Since the war, the State Department has established an office to oversee reconstruction in post-conflict areas.

Rumsfeld defended the administration's prewar planning and the size of the invasion force in front of a Senate panel last month: "The more troops you have, the more of an occupying power you are. The heavier the footprint, the more force protection you need, the more logistics you need and the more intrusive you are on the people of that country."

Hooker spends much of the study critiquing intelligence support to the war planners. He says his group—as well as the rest of the intelligence community—failed to predict the rapid rise of an anti-American insurgency, predicting instead that Saddam's removal would quickly prompt sectarian violence.

"The (intelligence) estimate generally failed to predict the nature and severity of security challenges," he wrote. "Sectarian violence was, in fact, minimal, while the growth of the insurgency was rapid."

While some predictions about Iraq's response to an American invasion were accurate, others were not, according to Hooker. CENTCOM intelligence analysts didn't predict that many Iraq army units would simply melt away, he says, and estimates that Iraq would destroy its own oil infrastructure were overblown, in part because U.S. special forces secured key fields in the war's opening hours.


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.