Iraqi troops conducted secret exercises for at least two years before attacking Kuwait as part of a war plan designed to conquer the oil fields of eastern Saudi Arabia, it was reported Monday.

The Los Angeles Times said the U.S. government used newly gathered intelligence to learn that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein drew up the plan as early as 1986. It envisioned that the troops would make only a "strategic pause" in Kuwait before continuing south into Saudi Arabia, the newspaper quoted knowledgeable officials as saying.Several military exercises were used as trial runs for the invasion, including a dress rehearsal in mid-July in central Iraq in which elite special operations forces practiced the helicopter-borne assault on Kuwait City that started the invasion Aug. 2.

A party of Iraqi commandos went to Kuwait immediately before the invasion, posing as a sports delegation on a visit that had been arranged well in advance. The "athletes" guided Iraqi helicopters to the targets, the newspaper said.

The paper said the new information has been circulated in the U.S. intelligence community and provides compelling evidence the surprise attack was the product of a long-planned operation aimed at winning control of half the world's oil supply.

The fact that the information was discovered only after the invasion raises new questions about the failure of the United States to detect it and respond sooner.

The at-least two-year series of military exercises "probably should have been seen to add up to something," a U.S. official said.

Instead, another source said, "nobody had really done any serious planning for this contingency," and when the invasion came, the American military did not have a deployment plan.