U.S. Spied on Iraqi Leaders, Book Says
Woodward Also Reveals That Political Fears Kept War Strategy
Review 'Under the Radar'
By Steve Luxenberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Post" -- -The
Bush administration has conducted an extensive spying operation
on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, his staff and others in the
Iraqi government, according to a new book by Washington Post
associate editor Bob Woodward.
"We know everything he says," according to one of multiple
sources Woodward cites about the practice in "The War Within: A
Secret White House History, 2006-2008," scheduled for release
The book also says that the U.S. troop "surge" of 2007, in which
President Bush sent nearly 30,000 additional U.S. combat forces
and support troops to Iraq, was not the primary factor behind
the steep drop in violence there during the past 16 months.
Rather, Woodward reports, "groundbreaking" new covert techniques
enabled U.S. military and intelligence officials to locate,
target and kill insurgent leaders and key individuals in
extremist groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Woodward does not disclose the code names of these covert
programs or provide much detail about them, saying in the book
that White House and other officials cited national security
concerns in asking him to withhold specifics.
Overall, Woodward writes, four factors combined to reduce the
violence: the covert operations; the influx of troops; the
decision by militant cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to rein in his
powerful Mahdi Army; and the so-called Anbar Awakening, in which
tens of thousands of Sunnis turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq and
allied with U.S. forces.
The book is Woodward's fourth to examine the inner debates of
the Bush administration and its handling of the Iraq and
Afghanistan wars. The Washington Post will run a four-part
series based on the book beginning Sunday. Fox News published a
report about the book on its Web site last night after obtaining
a copy ahead of the release date.
The 487-page book concentrates on Bush's leadership and
governing style, based on more than 150 interviews with the
president's national security team, senior deputies and other
key intelligence, diplomatic and military players. Woodward also
conducted two on-the-record interviews with Bush in May.
The book portrays an administration riven by dissension, either
unwilling or slow to confront the deterioration of its strategy
in Iraq during the summer and early fall of 2006. Publicly, Bush
maintained that U.S. forces were "winning"; privately, he came
to believe that the military's long-term strategy of training
Iraq security forces and handing over responsibility to the new
Iraqi government was failing. Eventually, Woodward writes, the
president lost confidence in the two military commanders
overseeing the war at the time: Gen. George W. Casey Jr., then
commander of coalition forces in Iraq, and Gen. John P. Abizaid,
then head of U.S. Central Command.
In October 2006, the book says, Bush asked Stephen J. Hadley,
his national security adviser, to lead a closely guarded review
of the Iraq war. That first assessment did not include military
participants and proceeded secretly because of White House fears
that news coverage of a review might damage Republican chances
in the midterm congressional elections.
"We've got to do it under the radar screen because the electoral
season is so hot," Hadley is quoted as telling Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice, who is described as challenging the
president on the wisdom of sending additional troops to Iraq.
"You're not getting a clear picture of what's going on on the
ground," she told the president, the book says.
The quality and credibility of information about the war's
progress became a source of ongoing tension within the
administration, according to the book. Rice complained about the
Defense Department's "overconfident" briefings during the tenure
of Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Rather than receiving options
on the war, Bush would get "a fable, a story . . . that skirted
the real problems," Rice is quoted as saying.
According to Woodward, the president maintained an odd
detachment from the reviews of war policy during this period,
turning much of the process over to Hadley. "Let's cut to the
chase," Bush told Woodward, "Hadley drove a lot of this."
Nor, Woodward reports, did Bush express much urgency for change
during the months when sectarian killings and violent attacks
against U.S. forces in Iraq began rising, reaching more than
1,400 incidents a week by October 2006 -- an average of more
than eight an hour. "This is nothing that you hurry," he told
Woodward in one of the interviews, when asked whether he had
given his advisers a firm deadline for recommending a revised
In response to a question about how the White House settled on a
troop surge of five brigades after the military leadership in
Washington had reluctantly said it could provide two, Bush said:
"Okay, I don't know this. I'm not in these meetings, you'll be
happy to hear, because I got other things to do."
The book presents an evolving portrait of the president's
decision-making. On the one hand, the book portrays Bush as
tentative and slow to react to the escalating violence in Iraq;
on the other, once he decides that a surge is required, he is
shown acting with focus and determination to move ahead with his
plan in the face of strong resistance from his top military
advisers at the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Woodward also depicts the development of a close working
relationship between Bush and Maliki, with the president leaning
on the Iraqi leader to govern evenhandedly and to take decisive
action against sectarianism. "I've worked hard to get in a
position where we can relate human being to human being, and
where I try to understand his frustrations and his concerns, but
also in a place where I am capable of getting him to listen to
me," Bush told Woodward.
Given Bush's efforts to earn Maliki's trust, the surveillance of
the Iraqi prime minister caused some consternation among several
senior U.S. officials, who questioned whether it was worth the
risk, Woodward reports. One official knowledgeable about the
surveillance "recognized the sensitivity of the issue and then
asked, 'Would it be better if we didn't?' "
Meanwhile, Woodward reports that Casey, the president's
commanding general in Iraq from 2004 to 2007, came to believe
that Bush did not understand the nature of the Iraq war, that
the president focused too much on body counts as a measure of
"Casey had long concluded that one big problem with the war was
the president himself," Woodward writes. "He later told a
colleague in private that he had the impression that Bush
reflected the 'radical wing of the Republican Party that kept
saying, "Kill the bastards! Kill the bastards! And you'll
succeed." ' "
Asked about his interest in body counts, Bush told Woodward: "I
asked that on occasion to find out whether or not we're fighting
back. Because the perception is that our guys are dying and
they're not. Because we don't put out numbers. We don't have a
tally. On the other hand, if I'm sitting here watching the
casualties come in, I'd at least like to know whether or not our
soldiers are fighting."
The discord between Bush and Casey is one manifestation of the
often-debilitating rift that Woodward portrays between the U.S.
military and its civilian leadership. The book describes a "near
revolt" in late 2006 by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who felt that
their advice was not reaching the president. Adm. Michael
Mullen, then serving as chief of naval operations, expressed
fear that the military would "take the fall" for a failure in
Iraq. According to the book, Casey and Abizaid resolutely
opposed the large surge that the president ultimately ordered,
as did Rumsfeld. Casey went so far as to refer to Baghdad as a
"troop sump." Within the administration, only the National
Security Council staff strongly supported the surge plan.
In the midst of the surge debate, Bush decided to replace
Rumsfeld, who had served as defense secretary throughout the war
and had long argued that the United States should "take the
training wheels off the Iraqi government." Bush chose Rumsfeld's
replacement, Robert M. Gates, without consulting Vice President
Cheney, Rumsfeld's chief patron, the book reports. Bush informed
Cheney of his decision on Nov. 6, 2006, the day before the
mid-term elections. "Well, Mr. President, I disagree," Cheney is
quoted as saying, "but obviously it's your call."
Woodward's account also includes a portrait of Gen. David H.
Petraeus, who replaced Casey in Iraq. In one scene in the Oval
Office in January 2007, Bush tells his new commander in Iraq
that the surge is his attempt to "double down." According to
Woodward, Petraeus replies, "Mr. President, this is not double
down. This is all in."
"The War Within" also tells the story of retired Gen. Jack
Keane, a former Army vice chief of staff who used his high-level
contacts in the White House and the Pentagon to influence war
policy and major military personnel moves. A friend and mentor
of Petraeus, Keane made regular visits to Iraq to advise the new
commanding general and then briefed Cheney about each trip. In
turn, Woodward reports, Bush sent a back-channel message to
Petraeus through Keane, circumventing the chain of command.
In a critical epilogue assessing the president's performance as
commander-in-chief, Woodward concludes that Bush "rarely was the
voice of realism on the Iraq war" and "too often failed to
During the interviews with Woodward, the president spoke of the
war as part of a recentering of American power in the Middle
East. "And it should be," Bush said. "And the reason it should
be: It is the place from which a deadly attack emanated. And it
is the place where further deadly attacks could emanate."
The president also conceded: "This war has created a lot of
really harsh emotion, out of which comes a lot of harsh
rhetoric. One of my failures has been to change the tone in
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