WASHINGTON - Agence France-Presse
The United States spied on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his government even as President George W. Bush vowed a strong relationship with the Iraqi leader, according to a new book reported Friday by the Washington Post.
The book, by Post investigative reporter Bob Woodward, says the surveillance worried senior U.S. officials, the Post wrote.
"We know everything he says," according to one sources cited by Woodward discussing the spying operation that also targeted Maliki's staff and others in the government.
An official familiar with the surveillance "recognized the sensitivity of the issue and then asked, 'Would it be better if we didn't?'"
U.S. officials were not immediately available to comment on the book.
Plagued by divisions:
Woodward portrays the Bush administration as plagued by divisions with top generals staging a "near revolt" in late 2006 over the president's plans to deploy more troops to Iraq. The Joint Chiefs of Staff believed their advice was not reaching the president and Admiral Michael Mullen, then chief of naval operations, feared the U.S. military would "take the fall" for any failure in Iraq, according to the book.
General George Casey, then commander of U.S.-led forces in Iraq, and General John Abizaid, former head of U.S. Central Command, strongly opposed the troop surge that the president ordered, as did then defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Casey even referred to Baghdad as a "troop sump." Within Bush's administration, only the national security council staff strongly supported the surge strategy, which has since been praised as a military success.
Bush decided during the internal debate to sack Rumsfeld, who had served as defense secretary throughout the war, according to the book.
Bush selected Rumsfeld's replacement, Robert Gates, without consulting Vice President Cheney, Woodward wrote.
Bush informed Cheney of his decision on November 6, 2006 -- the day before U.S. elections in which the Republicans lost control of Congress. "Well, Mr. President, I disagree," Cheney is quoted as saying, "but obviously it's your call."
�Groundbreaking' covert intelligence:
Woodward said the increase in combat troops was not the main factor in the reduction in violence in Iraq over the past year. He credits "groundbreaking" covert intelligence operations that helped identify insurgent leaders and key figures in al-Qaeda in Iraq.
But the author does not reveal much detail about the covert techniques, saying that U.S. officials asked him not to disclose the information for national security reasons.
"The War Within: A Secret White House History, 2006-2008" is the fourth book by Woodward looking at Bush's handling of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars after the September 11, 2001 attacks. It is to published Monday.
Woodward rose to prominence in the 1970s with fellow Post reporter Carl Bernstein for exclusive reports on the Watergate scandal that eventually led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
Bush was interviewed for the new book and defends the U.S. invasion of Iraq but acknowledges it has caused bitter opposition at home.
The president described the war as part of a reshaping of U.S. power in the Middle East. "And it should be," Bush is quoted as saying. "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."
But he adds: "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 Washington."