For a Kinder, Gentler Society
Precision strikes were wide of mark
Bombers went 0-for-5O last year in efforts to kill Iraqi leaders By Douglas Jehl and Eric Schmitt

WASHINGTON The United States conducted many more failed airstrikes on a far broader array of senior Iraqi leaders during the early days of the war last year than has previously been ac­knowledged, and some caused signifi­cant civilian  casualties according to se­nior military and intelligence officials.

Only a few of the 50 airstrikes have been described in public. All were un­successful and many, including the two well-known raids on Saddam Hussein and his sons  appear to have been un­dercut by poor intelligence, current and former government officials said.

The strikes. carried out against so­-called  targets during a one-month period that ­began on March 19, 2003. used precision-guided munitions against at least 13 Iraqi leaders, includ­ing Genera: Izzat Ibrahim, Iraq's No. 2 officials the officials said.

Ibrahim is still at large, along with at least one other top official who was a target of the failed raids. That official, Major General Rafi Abd al-Latif Tilfah, the former head of the Directorate of General Security, and Ibrahim are play­ing leadership roles in the anti-Ameri­can insurgency according to a briefing document prepared last month by the Defense intelligence Agency.

The broad scope of the campaign and its failures  along with the civilian casu­alties havenot been acknowledged by the Bush Administration.

A report in December by Human Rights Watch, based on a review of four strikes concluded that the singling out of Iraqi leadership had "resulted in dozens of civilian casualties that the United States could have prevented if it had taken additional precautions."

The poor record in the strikes has raised questions about the intelligence they were based on, including whether that intelligence reflected deception on the part of Iraqis, the officials said. The attempt  on March 19, 2003, to kill Sad­dam and his sons at the Dora Farms compound, south of Baghdad, remains a subject of particular contention.

A CIA officer reported, primarily on the basis of information provided by satellite telephone from an Iraqi source, that Saddam was in an underground bunker at the site. That prompted Pres­ident George W. Bush to accelerate the timetable for the beginning of the war, giving approval for strikes by precision-­guided bombs and cruise missiles, se­nior intelligence officials said.

But in an interview last summer, Lieutenant General Michael Moseley, the U.S. Air Force deputy chief of staff who directed the air campaign during the invasion, acknowledged that in­spections after the war had concluded that no such bunker existed. Various in­ternal reviews by the military and the Central Intelligence Agency have still not resolved the question of whether Saddam was at the location at all, according to senior military and intelli­gence officials, although the CIA main­tains that he was probably at Dora Farms.

One possibility, a senior intelligence official and a senior military officer said, is that Saddam was above ground in one of the houses that were not de­stroyed in the raid.

In retrospect, the failures were an early warning sign about the thinness of American intelligence on Iraq and on Saddam's inner circle. Some of the offi­cials who survived the raids, including Ibrahim, have become leaders of what the Defense Intelligence Agency now believes has been a planned anti-Amer­ican insurgency, several intelligence of­ficials said.

The failures were an early warning of intelligence shortfalls.

"It was all just guesswork on where they were," said a senior military officer. Another official, a senior army officer who served in Iraq, described early in­telligence on the Iraqi leadership as pro­ducing "a lot of dry holes." A third senior military officer described the quantity of "no kidding, actionable" intelligence as having been limited, but added, "In a real fight, you go with what you've got."

Senior military officials said they were not sure whether the Iraqis had deliberately deceived the United States in the information that they provided or that was intercepted. They described the intelligence as problematic at best, but said that intelligence agencies had been engaged in a hard task.

An unclassified air force report is­sued in April 2003 categorized 50 at­tacks from March 19 to April 18 as hav­ing been time-sensitive strikes aimed at Iraqi leaders. An up-to-date accounting posted on the Web site of the US. Cen­tral Command shows that 43 of the top 55 Iraqi leaders on the most-wanted list have now been taken into custody or killed, but that none were taken into custody until April 13, 2003, and that none were killed by airstrikes.

An explicit account of the zero for 50 record in strikes on high-value targets was provided by Marc Garlasco, a former Defense Intelligence Agency of­ficial who headed the joint staff's high­-value targeting cell during the war.

Garlasco is now a senior military analyst for Human Rights Watch, and he was a primary author of the Decem­ber report. The broad failure rate was confirmed by several senior military officials, including some who served in Iraq or the region during the war, and by senior intelligence officials.

Immediately after the March 19 attack and others, including an April 5 strike aimed at General Ali Hasan al-Majid, a top official known as Chemical Ali for his role in the gassing of Kurds in 1988, senior American officials expressed confidence that the strikes had been suc­cessful. On April 7, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and General Richard Myers, chairman of the joint Chiefs of Staff, played a videotape of the strike aimed at Majid, and Rumsfeld declared, "We believe that the reign of terror of Chemical Ali has come to an end."

But Majid survived that raid and oth­ers, and was not captured until August. Saddam was not captured until Dec. 13, and his sons Uday and Qusay were at large until they were killed on July 22.

An unclassified analysis prepared last month by the Defense Intelligence Agency and obtained by The New York Times describes Ibrahim as having "as­sumed Saddam's duties" as the titular head of the insurgency after Saddam's capture. It lists Tilfah, a cousin of Sad­dam, as one of the former government leaders involved in the insurgency.

Moseley, the top air force command­er during the war who is now the air force deputy chief of staff, said in the in­terview last summer that commanders had been required to obtain advance approval from Rumsfeld if any planned airstrike were likely to result in the deaths of 30 more civilians. More than 50 such raids were proposed, and all were approved, Moseley said.

But raids considered time-sensitive, which included all of those on the high-­value targets, were not subject to that constraint, according to current and former military officials. In part for that reason, the report by Human Rights Watch report concluded, "at­tacks on leadership likely resulted in the largest number of civilian deaths from the air war."

The four case studies examined by the organization included the failed March 19, 2003, strike on Saddain and his sons at Dora Farms, which it said killed a civilian.

According to Human Rights Watch, a failed April 5 strike that singled out Majid in a residential area of Basra killed 17 civilians; a failed April 8 strike that was aimed at Saddam's half-broth­er, Watban Ibrahim Barzan, in a district of Baghdad killed six civilians; and a second raid on Saddain and one or both of his sons, on April 7 in the Mansur dis­trict of Baghdad, killed 18 civilians.

Senior military officers said some of the strikes might have failed because the Iraqi leaders were on the move dur­ing the war.

But according to a senior defense of­ficial and two former intelligence offi­cials, there were also indications that some intelligence had been wrong, and might have reflected deliberate disin­formation from Iraqis enlisted as spies by the United States or from Iraqis who suspected that American intelligence agencies were listening in on their com­munications.

The New York Times