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Miscalculations in the hunt for Saddam

A new book, "Cobra II," outlines the faulty intelligence and judgments made by both the U.S. and Iraq before the war.  NBC's Andrea Mitchell speaks to the authors.

On Dec. 13, 2003, L. Paul Bremer, the head of the Iraq Coalition Provisional Authority, announced the capture of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein with the words, “Ladies and gentlemen, we got him.”

But before they got him, they missed him — despite 50 attempts to kill Saddam and his top leaders during the first six weeks of the war alone.

This has all been revealed, for the first time, in “Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq” — a new book about misjudgments on both sides. The New York Times' chief military correspondent, Michael Gordon, is the book’s author. 

“In my view, the intelligence of the war was atrocious,” he says.

The trouble started the night the war began, when a spy told the CIA Saddam had been spotted. As a result, President Bush launched air strikes two days earlier than planned. But Saddam was nowhere near.

Marc Garlasco was an intelligence analyst targeting Saddam for the joint chiefs.

“My job was to find and kill Saddam Hussein,” he says.

His CIA counterpart told him the first strike had been successful.

“He said, ‘We got Saddam. Don’t worry about it. The war is over. Pack your bags and go back home,’” recalls Garlasco.

Two days later, a man looking like Saddam showed up on television wearing thick glasses. The CIA wondered, was it Saddam or a double?

As bad as the American intelligence was, the book uncovers huge miscalculations by Saddam and his generals. While the U.S. was misreading him, he was misreading the U.S.

First, on weapons of mass destruction: The authors say Saddam created the impression he had the weapons to scare his arch enemy, Iran.

“Cobra II’s” co-author is retired Marine Gen. Bernard Trainor. He says Saddam “created what he called ‘deterrence of doubt’ — not against us, but against the Iranians.”

Saddam, says Gordon, didn’t tell his own generals there were no weapons of mass destruction until just before the war. 

“He said, ‘I don’t have it,’” Gordon says. “The generals were stunned and rather demoralized.”

In a final twist, the authors say Saddam tried to clean up old WMD sites from the first Gulf War to avoid a U.S. attack. But the U.S. misinterpreted the cleanup as proof of a cover-up and condemned Saddam at the United Nations.

There were also other mistakes. Saddam was convinced President Bush, like his father, would not go to Baghdad.

It all adds up to a litany of miscalculations by both sides, and three years later, the war continues.