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Washington Concerned Russia Gave Pre-War Information to Iraq


Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says Washington is taking what she described as a "hard look" at documents that indicate Russia may have passed information about U.S. strategy to Iraq, prior to the war. Secretary Rice called this a serious issue, but stopped short of leveling any direct accusations against Moscow.

Secretary Rice discussed the issue of possible Russian help to Iraq in appearances on several U.S. television programs.

She told Fox News Sunday the American government is working to confirm the reports.

"I will tell you that we take very seriously any suggestion that a foreign government may have passed information to the Iraqis, prior to the American invasion, that might have put our troops in danger," said Condoleezza Rice. "Of course, that is a serious matter, and we will raise it with the Russian government."

The allegations surfaced in a report issued by the Pentagon last week, which included Iraqi documents that say Russia was providing intelligence to the Iraqi government during the early weeks of the war.

Secretary Rice said she does not know if the Russian information, which the Pentagon says turned out to be false, was a case of deliberate misinformation. She told NBC's Meet the Press program that, although Russian opposition to the U.S.-led Iraq War was no secret, she does not want to assume that Moscow had passed data to the Iraqis.

"They said they were going to oppose the Iraq War, and they did," she said. "And they told us that from the very beginning. So, I do not have an argument there. And I do not want to jump to the conclusion that this was something that was ordered out of the Kremlin."

On Saturday, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service denied the U.S. report, saying it consists of unfounded accusations.

Nevertheless, Secretary Rice said Sunday she hopes for what she described as candid and honest discussions on the matter with the Russian government.

"I hope that the Russian government would take it seriously, and give us a serious answer on what they find," said Condoleezza Rice.

Meanwhile, on CNN's Late Edition program, Secretary Rice acknowledged critics, who say the Iraqi political process should be moving faster.

"The Iraqis are working on a government of national unity," she noted. "They are doing it, to be totally frank, more slowly than we would hope, and we have pressed that they need to expedite, because of the potential of a political vacuum."

She added that the Iraqi parties involved are moving with deliberation because they are dealing with weighty issues.

"They are very involved in trying to deal with some of the most sensitive and existential issues for the new Iraq, as they begin to put together a program, by which the national government, the government of national unity, would actually govern," said Secretary Rice. "They are putting together the rules of how they will govern, of how they will relate to each other and to different institutions. And they are going to be selecting people for particular slots."

In Iraq, violence continues. In the latest incident, Iraqi police found 30 decapitated bodies near the city of Baquba. Authorities are working to identify the victims and determine why they were killed. The discovery is the latest since sectarian violence flared following the bombing of a Shi'ite shrine last month.

Meanwhile, Secretary Rice says she believes "a significant number" of U.S. troops could be withdrawn from Iraq during the next year, as long as Iraqi forces can increase their role in maintaining the country's security.