The administration was surprised by the rebellions against Saddam Hussein within Iraq probably because it maintained throughout the war and after a 1988 policy of no contact with the opposition, a Senate staff report said Thursday.

The report also said that when several Iraqi military figures contemplated shifting their allegiance and their forces to the rebels, they sought a sign that the uprisings had U.S. support. No such signal was given."The United States was unprepared for the peace that followed the gulf war," the report said. "It did not comprehend the depth of popular anger inside Iraq at Saddam Hussein and therefore did not anticipate the uprisings in either the south or the north."

In addition, the report said the administration, in making policy decisions, wrongly characterized the positions of the Kurds and the Shia rebels.

"As a result an opportunity to overthrow Saddam Hussein in mid-March may have been lost," the report said.

"Further, neither anticipating the rebellion it had called for nor the brutal nature of the Iraqi response, the administration was unprepared to cope with the subsequent humanitarian crisis," the report said. "Being caught by surprise may be directly traceable to a policy of no contact with the Iraqi opposition."

The report was prepared for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by Peter Galbraith, a member of the staff, and released by Chairman Claiborne Pell, D-R.I.

Galbraith traveled with the Kurdish rebels through Kurdistan at the end of March and also met with opposition leaders in northern Iraq, Damascus, Frankfurt, Paris and Washington, D.C.

He said that in April 1988, Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani met with several officials of the State Department - without the knowledge of Secretary of State George Shultz - and the meeting produced an "explosive reaction" from Iraq and Turkey.

"Secretary Shultz felt blindsided and an edict went forth mandating no contact with the Iraqi opposition," the report said, adding that nothing, not even the Iraqi chemical attacks on the Kurds, changed the policy.