September 6, 2008

‘We Know Everything That He Says’ US Spied on Iraqi PM, Claims Book

By Patrick Cockburn

THE UNITED States has spied extensively on Iraq's Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, and other Iraqi government leaders, the American investigative journalist Bob Woodward has revealed.

"We know everything he says," the journalist quotes one source as saying, in his fourth book on George Bush's presidency. The US administration's decision to spy continually on Mr Maliki - a close US ally- shows deep distrust of the Iraqi leadership by the US. The surveillance took place even while Mr Maliki was speaking to Mr Bush by video-phone once a week.

The Iraqi government reacted furiously yesterday and said it would ask the US for an explanation, although Mr Maliki and other Iraqi leaders are unlikely to be shocked or surprised that the US has been spying on them. "If it is true ... it reflects that there is no trust," a government spokesman said.

The prime aim of US espionage targeting Iraqi officials has been to find out the true relations between the Baghdad government and Iran, though that motive is not referred to in Woodward's book. Washington has been deeply suspicious of Mr Maliki and his predominantly Shia government for maintaining close relations with Tehran even while the US was threatening to go to war with Iran.

At one moment in 2006-07, US officials in Iraq were complaining privately that they could not get enough information about more sophisticated and lethal roadside bombs killing American troops because so much of the US intelligence effort was focussed on the Iraqi government. "Hundreds of our people were doing nothing but listening to Iraqi officials," said a source.

The US troop "surge" of 2007, when 30,000 extra troops were sent to Iraq to pursue more aggressive tactics, was not the main reason for the fall in violence in Iraq over the past 16 months, says Woodward in The War Within: A Secret White House History, 2006- 2008. Instead, he claims that "groundbreaking" new covert techniques enabled US military and intelligence officials to find, target and kill insurgent leaders in rebel groups, particularly in al-Qa'ida in Iraq. In its summary of Woodward's book, to be published on Monday, the Washington Post, of which he is associate editor, says he does not reveal the codenames of that assassination campaign because of national security concerns.

The origin and degree of success of the "surge" is politically important in the US presidential election because the Republican candidate, John McCain, says he was an early advocate of the strategy and it has brought the US close to military victory.

Denying that, Woodward concludes there were four factors leading to the reduction in violence in Iraq: Covert operations, troop reinforcements, the decision by the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to restrain his Mahdi Army militia, and the rise of the Awakening Movement in the Sunni community opposing al-Qa'ida in Iraq.

There certainly was an increase in assassinations of Sunni rebel leaders in early 2007 timed to coincide with the beginning of the "surge". But the weakening of al-Qa'ida came primarily because al- Qa'ida alienated the Sunni by trying to take full control of the anti-American resistance and also provoked a sectarian war with the Shia in which the Sunni were largely defeated.

Despite Mr McCain's claim that the surge has wholly altered the military picture in Iraq, the Pentagon has recommended that the 146,000 US troops currently in Iraq be reduced by just 8,000 by next March. The number of US soldiers in Iraq at that time will be slightly greater than before the surge began in January 2007.

Mr Bush and his military commanders regarded each other with mutual distrust before the appointment of General David Petraeus as US commander in Iraq in succession to General George Casey. "Casey had long concluded that one big problem with the war was the President himself," Woodward writes. "He later told a colleague in private he had the impression that Bush reflected 'the radical wing of the Republican Party' that kept saying, 'Kill the bastard! Kill the bastards!' And you'll succeed."

The career of a Pulitzer Prize-winner

Bob Woodward has been a reporter for the Washington Post since 1971, winning nearly every American journalism award there is. The Post won the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for his work with Carl Bernstein about the Watergate scandal, later immortalised in the film All The Presidents Men. In addition, Woodward won another Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for his coverage of the aftermath of the 11 September attacks on the US. He won the Gerald R Ford Prize for distinguished reporting on the presidency in 2003. The Weekly Standard called him the best pure reporter of his generation, perhaps ever. In 2003, Albert Hunt of the Wall Street Journal called Woodward the most celebrated journalist of our age. Bob Schieffer of CBS News said: Woodward has established himself as the best reporter of our time. He may be the best reporter of all time. Woodward is married to Elsa Walsh, a writer for The New Yorker, and has two daughters.

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