Analysis Is Bleak on Iraq?s FutureLocked
The New York Times
February 3, 2007
Analysis Is Bleak on Iraq?s Future
By MARK MAZZETTI
WASHINGTON, Feb. 2 ? The release on Friday of portions of a bleak new National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq?s future left the White House and its opponents vying over whether its findings buttressed their vastly different views about how to arrest the worsening sectarian chaos there.
The assessment, by American intelligence agencies, expressed deep doubts about the abilities of Iraqi politicians to hold together an increasingly balkanized country, and about whether Iraqi troops might be able to confront powerful militias over the next 18 months and assume more responsibility for security.
The analysis, the first such estimate on Iraq in more than two years, described in sober language a rapidly unraveling country in which security has worsened despite four years of efforts by the administration.
President Bush acknowledged last month that his strategy had failed so far.
The estimate suggested that the United States now faced an unpalatable decision in which a rapid withdrawal of American troops would only accelerate momentum toward Iraq?s collapse, and in which Iraq faced long odds of quelling the violence and overcoming hardening sectarian divisions, regardless of how many American troops police Iraq?s streets.
The report was released a week after Vice President Dick Cheney dismissed suggestions that Iraq is in a parlous state, saying, ?The reality on the ground is, we?ve made major progress.?
The administration has also intensified its criticism of Iran, accusing it of fueling the sectarian violence in Iraq and providing Shiite militias with material for bombs that the administration says have been used in attacks on American forces. The White House has thus far made little evidence public to support its case.
The intelligence report did conclude that Iran is providing ?lethal support? for Shiite groups that is intensifying the violence. But it portrayed the violence as essentially ?self-sustaining,? and suggested that the involvement of outsiders, including Iran, was ?not likely to be a major driver of violence or the prospects for stability.?
National Intelligence Estimates provide a consensus of the 16 agencies that make up the intelligence community.
In choosing to take the rare step of making public three and a half pages of ?key judgments? from the classified report, administration officials seized on one conclusion ? that American forces remain ?an essential stabilizing element in Iraq? ? to reinforce their view that more troops are needed to secure Baghdad and give Iraqi leaders breathing room to develop a political settlement, particularly between the warring Sunnis and Shiites.
But top Democratic lawmakers said the estimate?s conclusions supported their view that the best way to combat violence in Baghdad would be through new political and diplomatic programs.
The declassified portions included an assessment that an Iraqi military hampered by sectarian divisions would be ?hard pressed? over the next 12 to 18 months to ?execute significantly increased security responsibilities, and particularly to operate independently against Shia militias with any success.?
The report also concluded that security in Iraq would continue to deteriorate at current rates unless ?measurable progress? can be made in efforts to reverse the conditions that fuel violence.
The full classified report was said by officials to be about 90 pages in length, and was provided to the White House and members of Congress. Top Democrats said the release of the intelligence estimate would strengthen their hand as the Senate prepares for a possible vote next week on a nonbinding resolution opposing President Bush?s new Iraq strategy.
?The estimate reaffirms my belief that the best hope for progress toward stabilizing Iraq lies only with the Iraqi people and their political leaders,? Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, the West Virginia Democrat and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. ?The steps identified by the intelligence community as having the best chance of reversing the chaos and bloodshed in Iraq are all political developments, not military.?
But Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, said at the White House that the estimate ?gives us some evidence? of why Mr. Bush had concluded that ?an American withdrawal or stepping back now would be a prescription for fast failure and a chaos that would envelop not only Iraq, but the region.?
Mr. Hadley said the estimate also bolstered the White House strategy of sending more than 20,000 new troops into Iraq.
The previous National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, in the summer of 2004, detailed three possible outlooks for Iraq over the following 18 months, with the most pessimistic possibility that Iraq would descend into civil war.
By contrast the new report, struggling to describe the nature of the ongoing violence, said that calling it a ?civil war? was hardly sufficient.
?The intelligence community judges that the term ?civil war? does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq, which includes extensive Shia-on-Shia violence, Al Qaeda and Sunni insurgent attacks on coalition forces, and widespread criminally motivated violence,? the assessment read.
John E. McLaughlin, who oversaw the previous intelligence estimate when he was acting director of central intelligence, said that he believed that intelligence officials in 2004 had presciently assessed what was to come in Iraq, but that the escalation of sectarian violence over the past year had made the situation even more complex.
?Civil war is checkers,? he said. ?This is chess.?
The report also warned that a further sectarian splintering of Iraq could incite other countries in the Middle East to arm and finance various sects in the country: Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt supporting the Sunnis, and Iran coming to the aid of Shiite forces.
A National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq that was produced in 2002 in the prelude to the American invasion has become infamous as an example of an intelligence failure, because most of its central assertions about Iraq?s weapons capabilities and ties to terrorism have since been proven to have been mistaken.
Since then, American intelligence officials have made efforts to overhaul the process to produce the reports, in part by giving new emphasis to dissenting views that were once buried in obscure footnotes.
The latest analysis is understood to contain multiple dissents, one of which concerns the role of Syria in supporting Sunni insurgents in Iraq.
Intelligence analysts have been divided over whether it is the policy of the government in Damascus to aid the flow of foreign fighters who enter Iraq from Syria, or whether that assistance is the work of lower-level Syrian officials acting on their own.
American intelligence analysts have also disagreed about the extent to which Iranian government officials are aware of the flow of Qaeda operatives between Iran and Iraq.
Beyond the current grim picture, the report described several ?triggering events? that could cause the situation to worsen significantly. Among them, it listed the assassination of major religious or political leaders, a complete Sunni defection from the government, and sustained mass sectarian killings that could ?shift Iraq?s trajectory from gradual decline to rapid deterioration with grave humanitarian, political and security consequences.?
Were the already fragile government to collapse, the report outlined three possible outcomes: the emergence of a Shiite strongman to assert authority over minority sects, an ?anarchic? fragmentation that puts power in the hands of hundreds of local potentates, or a period of sustained, bloody fighting leading to partition of Iraq along ethnic lines.
?Collapse of this magnitude would generate fierce violence for at least several years,? the report concluded, ?ranging well beyond the time frame of this estimate, before settling into a partially stable end-state.?
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company