By MIKE ECKEL, Associated Press Writer1 hour, 16 minutes ago
Russia had a military intelligence unit operating in Iraq up through the 2003 U.S. invasion and fall of Baghdad, a Russian analyst said Friday as the Pentagon reported Moscow fed Saddam Hussein’s government with intelligence on the American military.
Iraqi documents released as part of the Pentagon report asserted that the Russians relayed information to Saddam through their ambassador in Baghdad during the opening days of the war in late March and early April 2003, including a crucial time before the ground assault on Baghdad.
Pavel Felgenhauer, a respected independent Moscow-based military analyst, told The Associated Press the report was “quite plausible.”
He said a unit affiliated with the Defense Ministry’s Main Intelligence Department, known by its abbreviation GRU, was actively working in Iraq at the time of the U.S. invasion. The unit apparently was shut down after the fall of Baghdad.
Felgenhauer said at that time, there was an Internet site in Russian called “The Ramzay Files” that caused a stir in Moscow’s military and diplomatic community. The site, which also shut down after the invasion, posted striking insights, predictions and analysis into U.S. military activities as well Iraqi military and intelligence activities.
He said former GRU officials told him the type of information that was being posted — both on the Iraqis and on the Americans — appeared to be the kind of that only highly placed Russian intelligence officials in Iraq would have.
It was not immediately clear whether there was any connection between the GRU unit and the Russian sources the Pentagon said were operating inside the American Central Command as it planned and executed the invasion of Iraq.
Felgenhauer said the release of the Pentagon report was coming at an inauspicious time. Given the marked cooling in Russian-US relations of recent months, it could be “the beginning of a real degradation in relations” between Washington and Moscow.
A spokeswoman for Russia’s U.N. misson in New York slammed the report, saying its charges are unsupported.
“To my mind, from my understanding it’s absolutely nonsense and it’s ridiculous,” said Maria Zakharova. She said the United States had not shown Russia the evidence cited in the report.
“Somebody wants to say something, and did — and there is no evidence to prove it,” she said.
The presence of Russian diplomats in Baghdad as U.S. forces closed in on the city resulted in some testy accusations between Moscow and Washington.
On April 6, 2003, Russian diplomats came under fire as they fled Baghdad, wounding at least four people. Russia’s ambassador to Iraq, Vladimir Titorenko, has accused American troops of shooting at his convoy. The U.S. ambassador to Russia, Alexander Vershbow, said the Russians had changed their route from one that American officials had deemed safer.
Three days later, the Russian daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported that the convoy might have been carrying secret Iraqi files that U.S. intelligence officers wanted to seize — a report Russian intelligence agencies denied.
Vershbow later said in a newspaper interview that Washington had been aware of contacts between Russian and Iraqi spy agencies, but the United States needed to gather more facts before coming to a definite conclusion on the subject.
Russian intelligence officials repeatedly denied having any links with Iraqi spy services. But several recent British and U.S. newspaper reports cited documents found at the office of the Iraqi spy service, Mukhabarat, that showed Iraq was receiving intelligence assistance from Russia.
Source: AP via Yahoo! News