Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has called on Russia to conduct a "serious investigation" into an allegation that Russian officials provided intelligence on U.S. military plans to Iraqi leaders in the early weeks of the war in 2003. The charge is contained in captured Iraqi documents that are quoted in a Defense Department report issued on Friday. But on Tuesday, Russia's defense minister dismissed the charge, and U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sought to play it down.
The Defense Department report quotes two Iraqi documents that claim Russian officials, including its ambassador in Baghdad, passed on information from sources at the forward U.S. military command center in Bahrain. Some of the information was accurate, but some key points were not, leading the report's authors to conclude that it contributed to the "fog" of misconception they say enveloped Saddam Hussein and other Iraqi leaders before and during the war.
In Moscow on Tuesday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov called the allegation "complete rubbish." He told a news conference Russia has "never supplied anyone with information."
Still, the Iraqi documents have raised questions about whether Russia actually had sources in the U.S. Central Command, or whether officials there were feeding inaccurate information to the Russians, and why Russia would have passed on any such information to Iraq, particularly at that time.
On Tuesday, Secretary Rice told a Senate committee she had reviewed the information and phoned her Russian counterpart to call for an investigation.
"I have talked with the Russian Foreign Minister [Sergei Lavrov] and asked them to look into this and to take it very seriously," she said. "We take very seriously any implication that someone might have been passing information that endangered the operation at the outset of the war. And we will look for an answer back from the Russian government once, hopefully, they've had a chance to look into it."
But at about the same time, at a news conference at the Pentagon, Secretary Rumsfeld indicated he is not sure whether the Iraqi documents are credible enough to require an investigation on the U.S. side.
"I'd have to go back and read it carefully and see what credence one ought to give to it, and see what we may have discovered through other channels, and then make a decision," he said.
Secretary Rumsfeld had previously said he received more than two hours of briefings on the report, including classified information not made public. But on Tuesday he said he did not recall any mention of the alleged Russian role in those briefings. And he indicated that the report Russia was passing sensitive U.S. information to Iraq at a time of war was among many details in hundreds of reports, and he can not be expected to know them all.
"The idea that we're supposed to know what's going to be in every single document or report that comes out of this department, obviously doesn't quite appreciate the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of reports that are put out," he said.
At the same briefing, the top U.S. military officer, General Peter Pace, cast doubt on the Iraqi documents' reliability, even though it was included in the Defense Department report.
"We still don't know whether or not the translation itself is 100 percent accurate," he said. "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."
The Defense Department report issued on Friday was billed as the most comprehensive look inside an enemy government since World War II. Officials reviewed hundreds of thousands of documents and interviewed dozens of Iraqi officials, many of them in custody. The public version of the report, published last Friday, was preceded several months ago by a longer, secret version.
Among the report's findings are that Iraqi leaders made a series of miscalculations about U.S. intentions, that Saddam Hussein and other senior leaders believed they would win the war right up until U.S. forces entered Baghdad, and that many senior Iraqi officials did not know whether their country had weapons of mass destruction - one of the primary motivations for the U.S.-led invasion. The report also indicates U.S. officials were wrong about some of Saddam's intentions, and that the confusion over weapons of mass destruction was part of his plan.