Agencies say war is spreading terrorism

White House disagrees with intelligence data

September 25, 2006|By Richard A. Serrano | Richard A. Serrano,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- The White House sharply disagreed yesterday with a new U.S. intelligence assessment that the war in Iraq is encouraging global terrorism, as Bush administration officials stressed that anti-American fervor in the Muslim world began long before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Peter Watkins, a White House spokesman, declined to talk specifically about the National Intelligence Estimate, a classified analysis that represents a consensus perspective of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies.

The highly classified report, delivered to policymakers in April, is the first of its kind since the start of the Iraq war in March 2003. In it, the agencies concluded that the war has only worsened the U.S. effort to defeat global terrorism. They said that the war is spreading radicalism from Iraq throughout the Middle East and that the longer it continues, the more likely it is that it will provide fresh training grounds for terrorist plots.

But the White House view, according to Watkins, is that much of the radical fundamentalists' deep anger at the U.S. and Israel goes back generations and cannot be linked to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

"Their hatred for freedom and liberty did not develop overnight," Watkins said. "Those seeds were planted decades ago."

He said the administration has sought in Iraq to root out hotbeds of terrorism before they grow. "Instead of waiting while they plot and plan attacks to kill innocent Americans, the United States has taken the initiative to fight back," Watkins said.

President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have highlighted the war in Iraq as the main thrust in the fight against terrorism, contending that the world is safer overall without Saddam Hussein in power in Iraq.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a member of the Armed Services Committee and a likely Republican presidential candidate in 2008, agreed with the White House view that radicalism pre-dates the toppling of Saddam and that fundamentalists are always looking for reasons to recruit new jihadists.

"If it wasn't Iraq, it'd be Afghanistan," he said on CBS' Face the Nation. "If it wasn't Afghanistan, it would be others that they would use as a method of continuing their recruitment."

But McCain also cautioned that the longer the war continues, "the more likely they are to have more recruits."

He added, "It's obvious that the difficulties we've experienced in Iraq have certainly emboldened [terrorists]. Lack of success always does that."

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Arlen Specter said he was "very concerned" by the reports on the NIE, which were published in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post.

"My feel is that the war in Iraq has intensified Islam fundamentalism and radicalism," Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, told CNN's Late Edition.

On the other political side, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said he agreed with the intelligence assessment that the war is breeding more terrorists.

"President Bush's repeated missteps in Iraq and his stubborn refusal to change course have made America less safe," Reid said in a statement issued by his office yesterday. "No election-year White House PR campaign can hide this truth.

"It is abundantly clear that we need a new direction in Iraq by strategically redeploying our troops to fight and win the real war on terror and make our country safer," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a Masschusetts Democrat. "The American people know it and our military leaders do as well. It's only the Republican leaders who have their heads in the sand, stubbornly refusing to change course and making the war on terror harder to win."

And Rep. Jane Harman of California -- the top Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and one of a few lawmakers to have read the classified report -- said on Late Edition that "every intelligence analyst I speak to confirms" that Iraq has made matters worse.

The war in Iraq is "a failed policy," she said.

Richard A. Serrano writes for the Los Angeles Times . The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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