By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs Correspondent, BBC News website
Recently released documents from Iraq have thrown important new light on the fantasies, failures and foreign activities of Saddam Hussein's government.
In particular, an assessment by US military analysts has shown Saddam Hussein's confusion as he was caught between trying to assure the UN that he had no weapons of mass destruction while wanting to leave the impression to others that he had.
Saddam Hussein believed a "warrior spirit" would halt the coalition
It also reveals how and why Saddam believed that there would be no US invasion in 2003 and that he could defeat it anyway.
The Russian ambassador in Baghdad channelled information to Saddam during the war, some of it wrong, according to one document.
There was also evidence that the Russians had a spy in the in the US high command. An Iraqi document refers to "sources at US Central Command in Doha, Qatar."
Among the documents is one that appears to demonstrate how the Iraqis supported the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines.
And there is a reference, so far unexplained, to plans being drawn up at the time of the invasion for a "Blessed July" series of suicide attacks in the West.
Iraq analysis project
First, the analysis by the United States Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM) Iraq Perspectives Project. Its key findings were first published as an article in Foreign Affairs magazine. The article does not itself publish original documents but draws on them. Its writers also had access to the interrogations of senior Iraqi officials. The Pentagon has now issued a fuller version.
The report has an invaluable section on how Saddam's inability to formulate a clear policy was one of the reasons for his downfall.
It says: "Coming clean about WMD and using full compliance with inspection to escape from sanctions would have been his best course of action for the long run. Saddam, however, found it impossible to abandon the illusion of having WMD, especially since it played so well in the Arab world."
According to Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali" because he used chemical weapons against the Kurds in 1987, Saddam did tell his colleagues that Iraq had no WMD but also that he could not remove all doubt in case it encouraged Israel to attack.
A circle of misinformation emerged after the invasion when some Iraqi officials still claimed that Iraq must have WMD - because the West said it had.
The invasion of 2003
The analysis paints a picture of a government led by a man unable to grasp reality himself, yet denied the truth by his subordinates.
Saddam believed that Russia and France would stop any invasion by using their Security Council vetoes. And even if the US did attack, a "warrior spirit" would throw an attack back. He felt that an internal revolt was still the main threat.
The Russian ambassador started feeding information about US troop movements but this simply made things worse. For example, Iraq was told that the assault on Baghdad would not start until the US 4th Division arrived in Turkey. It never did because of Turkish opposition, but the attack took place anyway.
On 30 March 2003, Saddam's secretary told the foreign minister that Iraq would accept only an "unconditional surrender" of American forces, which in fact were but a hundred miles south of Baghdad at that time and preparing for the final push.
The deluded optimism was apparently reflected, the authors say, in the pronouncements of the Minister for Information Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf who, with US tanks on the doorstep, claimed that the Americans would have their "bellies roasted" .
Among other factors that inhibited the Iraqi response were cronyism and nepotism and a diversion of effort from the armed forces to militias like the Fedayeen, which had no experience of war and suffered accordingly.
Saddam himself sent out obsessively detailed instructions about how to fight, including the importance of climbing palm trees for observation and sniping.
The Powell tape
One mystery the report clears up is the famous tape played by the then-US Secretary of State Colin Powell to the Security Council not long before the invasion.
Colin Powell makes his arguments to the Security Council
On the tape, Republican Guard commanders discuss removing the words "nerve gas" from wireless instructions and making sure that an area is free of "chemical agents."
It turns out that this was not an attempt at concealment, but an effort to ensure that the units were following orders to comply with UN resolutions.
The analysts note: "What was meant to prevent suspicion ended up heightening it."
The 'Blessed' plot
The analysis refers to a document, not itself provided, dated May 1999 in which Saddam's older son Uday ordered "special operations, assassinations and bombings for the centres and traitor symbols in London, Iran and the self-ruled areas of [Kurdish Northern Iraq]."
These were presumably to be against Iraqi opposition groups.
There is then this sentence in the article: "Preparations for 'Blessed July', a regime-directed wave of 'martyrdom' operations against targets in the West were well under way at the time of the coalition invasion."
What these targets might have been is not stated and the plans, like so many drawn up by the Iraqis, came to nothing, it seems.
Separate from the USJFCOM analysis is the posting on the internet of documents found in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This is an ongoing process by the US Director of National Intelligence and more documents will appear.
One of the first to attract attention (in the Weekly Standard) is a report in 2001 from the Iraqi ambassador in the Philippines, Salah Samarmad.
Reporting about a kidnapping of foreigners by the Abu Sayyaf group, linked to al-Qaeda, he tells his government that the Iraqi Intelligence Service had been supporting them but no longer.
"The kidnappers were formerly receiving money and purchasing combat weapons. From now on we are not giving them this opportunity and are not on speaking terms with them."
Contacts between Iraq and the Abu Sayyaf group have been reported before. In 2003, a State Department official told Congress about a link. But now with this document, evidence has come into plain view.
Another document details a meeting between Iraqi officials and Osama Bin Laden in Sudan in 1995 during which the al-Qaeda leader asks for help.
The US National Commission on the attacks of 9/11 said that Iraq "apparently never responded", though Vice-President Dick Cheney has argued that evidence of a link has been "overwhelming".
Among other documents is one from 14 March 2003 in which Saddam's son Qusay orders 448 captured Kuwaitis to be placed as "human shields" in strategic locations expected to be attacked by the "criminal Anglo-American aggressors".
This order raises the possibility that Iraq did in fact hold onto Kuwaiti prisoners from the first Gulf War long after it said it had none.
However, a note of caution is due here which is also introduced by the US Army unit releasing the documents. It says: "The US government has made no determination regarding the authenticity of the documents."
And the website actually asks readers to contact an address if they read documents which "they feel are inappropriately released" - that is forgeries.
Already, the irregular army of bloggers around the world is examining them in detail.