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Analysis Is Bleak on Iraq?s Future

By deepsand ·
The New York Times


February 3, 2007
Analysis Is Bleak on Iraq?s Future

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 **** 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

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What I do not understand

by DMambo In reply to Analysis Is Bleak on Iraq ...

Why is Iran fomenting violence which is causing the US to prolong it's presence? The way I see it, the US did Iran a favor by taking out Saddam. With their enemy dictator gone, and a "democratic" government, consisting mostly of Shiites, Iran would seem to have a friendly neighbor. If Iran would help keep the lid on Shiite violence, that would expedite America's withdrawal. At that point, Iran would be able to work it's influence to create the theocracy that they want.

I have to guess that popular sentiment among Iranian Shiites is to have a government primarily based on Islamic law. Allowing America's influence to wane would help set the stage for that. The sovereign Iranian government could sway in any direction it wanted. Maybe I'm naive in my belief that the US would have pulled out if the violence had not erupted. In any case, seems like the Occupier will remain until there's a way out that leaves some dignity, and that doesn't appear to be any time too soon.

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Oh, what tangled web.

by deepsand In reply to What I do not understand

Arabs vs Persians, Sunni vs Shia, and Clerics vs Secularists.

In general, you observation re. what might have happened had the U.S. withdrawn early on is correct, but only in so far as it goes. What remains to be observed is as follows.

Leaving Iraq under control of the Shia would have spelled certain doom for the Iraqi Sunni, which would have greatly angered the surrounding Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia & Jordan, which are Sunni.

Furthermore, leaving Iraq to become a satellite of Iran would have both endangered said Arab states and given Iran control over the Persian Gulf.

Additionally, having Iraq change from being a secularist state to a clerical one would threaten not only the Arab states to the south, but also those to the north and west, such as Turkey & Syria.

Therefore, if the U.S. were to depose Saddam, and maintain its geo-political stature, it must replace him with a government of its own making, rather than one of Iran's; and, one that cannot easily be manipulated by Iran.

With both the U.S. and Iran knowing the goals of the other, the former seeks to diminish the Shia's control of the Iraqi government while the latter seeks to increase it.

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But we went in to this with a "not a nation building" mentality

by DMambo In reply to Oh, what tangled web.

Since even early on, we weren't greeted as liberators and weren't showered with roses, it was clear that there would be a power/leadership/political vacuum. It's impossible to have that type of situation and not have a nation building task at your feet, especially with no consensus Iraqi leadership waiting in the wings.

You make an excellent point about the different regional influences. With all the attention focused on Iran, I overlooked that aspect of this mess. We upset what had evolved into a sort of an unnatural balance in the region. It'll be interesting to see how this will be resolved short of partitioning the country.

I wonder what would have happened if we had prevented the lawlessness that raged in the streets immediately after the fall of Baghdad, or if we handled the "debaathification" with a little more finesse.

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Just little more tougher

by onbliss In reply to But we went in to this wi ...

...and longer for the Iranians to do what they are doing right now. That is huge Shiite block, in Iraq, waiting to be tapped. Iran would tap them at the first possible opportunity. Say, Iraq was a shinning democratic country right now, the Iranian Clerics would be just squirming in their thrones. And they would be making plans to win over the Iraqi Shiites.

Saddam, with the backing of US, was the hurdle.

In reply to.....

I wonder what would have happened if we had prevented the lawlessness that raged in the streets immediately after the fall of Baghdad, or if we handled the "debaathification" with a little more finesse.

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"upset what had evolved into a sort of an unnatural balance in the region"

by deepsand In reply to But we went in to this wi ...

That is precisely the nut of the problem. And, it is the issue that those who so fervently support GWB's actions ignore.

Lost on them is the fact that the Middle East is comprised of many countries without a national heritage. Iraq itself is but 85 yr. old, having been created in 1920 by a League of Nations mandate, which ratified the Balkanization of the Turkish Empire by Europe following World War I.

That so many of these newly established countries still exist is owing only to the fact that a number of them have been controlled by those with both an exceedingly strong will & the willingness to use all necessary force to maintain their control. One need not look too far into the past to find examples of the consequences of the creation of a power vacuum; Yugoslavia, following the fall of Tito, will suffice.

One possible solution, of course, would be to partition Iraq, as happened to Yugoslavia. However, this is not without its own obstacles and dangers. I will elaborate shortly.

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What do you mean by....

by onbliss In reply to "upset what had evolved i ...

...your statement that they do not have a national heritage?

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I think what he means.....

by JamesRL In reply to What do you mean by....

The "nations" that comprise Iraq, the Kurds, Shia and Sunni have only lived together in one "state" since 1920.

Prior to that they were separate provinces in the Ottoman/Turkish empires.


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Country vs Nation

by onbliss In reply to I think what he means.... ...

If we go by the most common understanding of the two terms, then a country can have one or more nations within it. In the middle-eastern context, yes, they did not have much history in terms of the modern countries, but in terms of nation - they have a rich history. And, unfortunately that is one factor for the many struggles that they face.

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Precisely correct.

by deepsand In reply to I think what he means.... ...

And, as such, they've had little time to come to think of themselves 1st as being Iraqis, and only secondly as being Shia, Sunni, Arab, Persian, Kurd, Turkmen, etc..

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In that case...

by onbliss In reply to I think what he means.... ...

"national heritage" is not the right term you should have used. Some areas in the middle-east have hoary national heritage.

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