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April 4, 2003
Notes from the Pentagon

Deals in Iraq
U.S. intelligence officials said oil companies in both Russia and France secretly tried to conclude deals with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's government in the days before military action against Iraq began.

The oil deals were an attempt by the companies, which were not identified by the officials, to get a foot in the door for contracts for oil and oil-related development in a post-Saddam Iraq.

"They believed they could get the contracts and then hope they would be honored later," one official said.

Bush administration officials still are deciding how to divide up contracts for rebuilding post-Saddam Iraq. Opponents of the U.S.-led war, such as France and Russia, are not expected to get any favored treatment. U.S. and British companies, however, are expected to be big winners in the lucrative oil market in Iraq.

The Russians' oil deal with Baghdad was to be done through the United Nations' oil-for-food program. The French company was working behind the scenes with the Russian firm in an effort to mask the involvement, the officials said. U.S. intelligence agencies, however, detected the efforts and reported it to senior Bush administration officials the week before military operations began.

The intelligence comes amid other reports of a French company providing aircraft spare parts covertly to Iraq, and how a Chinese chemical company sold missile-fuel chemical to Iraq with the help of a French company.

Iraqi violations
It has not gotten much attention from a press corps interested in Iraq's chemical weapons, but the war already has revealed that Baghdad was in violation of its 1991 cease-fire agreement with the United Nations.

It was supposed to destroy any ballistic missile capable of traveling more than 93 miles. It hasn't.

Three of the ballistic missiles fired from Iraq at Kuwait were designed to travel more than the legal limit. Two went long, and one was intercepted by a Patriot PAC-III missile.

What's more, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force found two al Samoud 2 missiles this week hidden on a farm near al Hillah. The al Samoud 2's range exceeds 93 miles.

In other words, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was concealing prohibited weapons and U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix did not find them.

Saddam's coms
U.S. electronic eavesdropping agencies have been stymied in their efforts to try to confirm whether Saddam Hussein and his two sons are dead or alive.

There has been no intercepted communications from the Iraqi dictator and sons Uday and Qusai since the massive bombing attack on their compound March 19 in Baghdad. "We haven't heard a thing," one official told us.

However, U.S. intelligence agencies cannot conclude from the radio silence that the Iraqi leaders are dead.

While U.S. signals intelligence gathering is formidable and by far the largest collector of intelligence data in the U.S. government, Saddam and sons may be communicating through fiber-optic communications, we are told. "They have a lot of fiber," the official said.

Chinese telecommunications companies helped Iraq in the past two years to set up a fiber-optic communications network that was used for commercial communications as well to link up Iraq's military air-defense network.

The network has come under heavy precision bombing by coalition forces in recent days. Another alternative communications means could be old-fashioned couriers.

With every passing day there is no electronic indication Saddam is alive, U.S. officials are hoping the Iraqi leader and his sons were in fact killed the first night of the war.

Drowned Marines
New details have emerged on the circumstances surrounding the tragic drowning deaths of two Marines in Iraq.

A senior military official tells us the incident began when a Marine Corps force protection officer happened upon a group of Marines preparing to bridge the Saddam Canal and noted the other side of the canal posed a security danger from Iraqi forces.

Two Marines were then ordered to cross the canal to provide security. Both wore full equipment at least 60 pounds and carried rifles. They went under and drowned.

The matter is currently under investigation by the Corps.

The dead Marines were identified as Cpl. Evan James, 20, of Hancock, Ill., and Sgt. Bradley Korthaus, 28, of Scott, Iowa. Both were part of a Marine Corps Reserve engineer company in Peoria, Ill.

Two promising developments in the war against Iraq, from an allied pilot's perspective:

The regime has yet to launch one jet fighter to defend any part of its airspace; and Iraq has fired a barrage of Soviet-designed SA-7 hand-portable anti-aircraft missiles, yet missed every time.

The Iraqis used them with much greater effectiveness in Desert Storm 12 years ago. Of 38 allied aircraft shot down in 1991, a majority fell to the shoulder-fired SA-7s.

Officials say the Iraqi tactic is not working this time. Improved satellite sensors can warn pilots, who then take evasive action.

"You can outrun a 'manpad,' " said an allied officer, referring to the SA-7. Most pilots also fly above 10,000 feet, outside its reach.

The allies took a methodical approach to doing bomb-damage assessments (BDA) on Republican Guard tanks before declaring them destroyed and ordering the battle for Baghdad this week.

After a bombing, Central Command's land component commander in Kuwait assembles gun camera footage, satellite and Predator images and CIA intelligence to determine if the tank or artillery was destroyed. At some point Monday, commanders decided the magic degradation number was reached and the Battle for Baghdad began the next day. The Republican Guard's Medina and Baghdad divisions now lay in shambles.

"I think we're pretty sure we're hitting tanks," said a military officer. "The guys who do this assessment don't have anything to gain by being wrong."

Willing coalition
Add three countries to the anti-Saddam alliance willing to send ground troops to Iraq.

We are told that the Central American countries of El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras have offered to assemble a joint land-demining team.

U.S. Central Command, which is running the war, is considering the offer.

  • Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are Pentagon reporters. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at

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