Analysis of Iraq's future gets bleaker

Intelligence analysis of prospects bleak

February 03, 2007|By David Wood and Siobhan Gorman | David Wood and Siobhan Gorman,Sun Reporters

WASHINGTON -- In the bleakest assessment yet of the worsening war in Iraq, a new U.S. intelligence analysis said that "key elements" of the conflict have reached the level of civil war and cast doubt on the ability of either the United States or the Iraqis to achieve the reconciliation needed to stabilize the country in the near future.

The new National Intelligence Estimate, released yesterday by the office of the director of national intelligence, spurred fresh calls in Congress for a change in U.S. strategy and prompted an acknowledgement from the White House that "there is no assurance of success" in Iraq.

The conclusions of the report, whose classified version runs to 60 pages, seemed certain to sharpen congressional debate on the Bush administration's Iraq policy, which begins Monday in the Senate.

President Bush has ordered at least 21,500 additional American combat troops to Iraq in hopes of quelling the sectarian violence that is ripping apart Baghdad, killing thousands of Iraqi civilians and sending tens of thousands fleeing from their homes.

But in the new assessment, U.S. intelligence officers concluded that "even if violence is diminished, given the current winner-take-all attitude and sectarian animosities affecting the political scene, Iraqi leaders will be hard pressed to achieve sustained political reconciliation" over the next 12 to 18 months.

The intelligence report emphasized what it called Iraq's "growing polarization" and "the persistent weakness" of Iraqi security forces, despite a three-year U.S. effort to organize, train and equip an Iraqi army and national police.

Unless those difficulties can be overcome, the report said, "we assess the overall security situation will continue to deteriorate."

White House officials confirmed yesterday that Bush will ask Congress on Monday for $93.4 billion in new military spending for Iraq this year and $6 billion for reconstruction aid, beyond the $70 billion already authorized for Iraq. He will request an additional $145 billion for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

Most authoritative

The latest intelligence assessment, undertaken at the request of Congress, was begun last fall and completed in mid-January by agents and analysts from 16 intelligence agencies including the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, with additional input from academic experts.

The formal National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) is considered the most authoritative judgment of the U.S. intelligence community. Only a sanitized, nine-page summary of the report was made public.

"I think, overall, it is a fair statement of the challenge we face in Iraq," Stephen J. Hadley, White House national security adviser, told reporters. He said the grim outlook portrayed in the assessment "explains why the president concluded that a new approach, a new strategy was required" and "generally supports" the president's plan.

"The president believes his strategy has a prospect for success," Hadley said, adding that "the consequences of failure give us every incentive to try to make this succeed."

Nevertheless, Hadley also suggested that the administration is preparing for an "abrupt increase" in communal violence and "rapid deterioration" in Iraq that the intelligence report said could be triggered by such events as assassinations of key leaders or a mass Sunni defection from the Shiite-dominated central government.

Such a development, senior U.S. military officers have said, could require a rapid redeployment of American troops from Baghdad and steps to protect from reprisal killing those Iraqis who have worked closely with the U.S.

"As you would expect," Hadley said when asked about this possibility, "we are developing all kinds of contingency plans."

Former White House counterterrorism official Roger Cressey, who received a briefing yesterday from analysts involved in drafting the report, said its findings do not help the White House politically.

"What they say, in between the lines, is the situation is so bad that unless the Iraqis have a miraculous change, then you can't expect to achieve any of the improvements the [troop] surge is essentially trying to do," he said.

"The fear is the surge and the other military actions become a fool's errand because of the inherent weaknesses and incompetence of the Iraqi government. If you have self-sustaining violence, you have a big problem."

Reports from Baghdad suggest that Bush's plan to rely heavily on Iraqi army and national police units to quell the violence in Baghdad will not proceed easily.

Iraqi army units arriving in the capital to take up operations with U.S. Army battalions have only about 60 percent of their soldiers, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed yesterday.

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