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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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No, "national heritage," as used by me, is precisely correct.

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

That to which you refer is "cultural" heritage.

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Latest U.S. moves exacerbate Sunni-Shia conflict.

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

The New York Times

February 5, 2007
Iraqis Fault Pace of U.S. Plan in Attack

BAGHDAD, Feb. 4 ? A growing number of Iraqis blamed the United States on Sunday for creating conditions that led to the worst single suicide bombing in the war, which devastated a Shiite market in Baghdad the day before. They argued that the Americans had been slow in completing the vaunted new American security plan, making Shiite neighborhoods much more vulnerable to such horrific attacks.

The critics said the new plan, which the Americans have started to execute, had emasculated the Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia that is considered responsible for many attacks on Sunnis, but that many Shiites say had been the only effective deterrent against sectarian reprisal attacks in Baghdad?s Shiite neighborhoods. Even some Iraqi supporters of the plan, like Hoshyar Zebari, the foreign minister who is a Kurd, said delays in carrying it out had caused great disappointment.

In advance of the plan, which would flood Baghdad with thousands of new American and Iraqi troops, many Mahdi Army checkpoints were dismantled and its leaders were either in hiding or under arrest, which was one of the plan?s intended goals to reduce sectarian fighting. But with no immediate influx of new security forces to fill the void, Shiites say, Sunni militants and other anti-Shiite forces have been emboldened to plot the type of attack that obliterated the bustling Sadriya market on Saturday, killing at least 135 people and wounding more than 300 from a suicide driver?s truck bomb.

?A long time has passed since the plan was announced,? Basim Shareef, a Shiite member of Parliament, said Sunday. ?But so far security has only deteriorated.?

American officials have said the new plan will take time, but new concerns emerged Sunday about the readiness of Iraqi military units that are supposed to work with the roughly 17,000 additional American soldiers who will be stationed in Baghdad under the plan, which President Bush announced last month.

Iraqi and American military officials said the command structure of the Iraqi side had still not been resolved, although the plan is supposed to move forward this coming week.

Naeem al-Kabbi, the deputy mayor of Baghdad and a senior official loyal to Moktada al-Sadr, the powerful cleric who heads the Mahdi Army, said he believed the plan had been delayed ?because the Iraqi Army is not ready.?

American military officials have not laid out a precise timeline for the security plan, and would not say if undermanned Iraqi units had delayed its start. But American officials have said Iraqi units arriving in Baghdad to fulfill their part of the new plan are only at 55 to 60 percent of their full strength.

With much of Baghdad devolving further into chaos, many Iraqis have begun to question whether the security plan has ambled along too slowly, setting up a situation in which American and Iraqi troops will be greeted with hostility rather than welcomed as protectors.

Concerns about the unintended consequences of the American security plan rippled through many levels of the Iraqi government.

?People?s expectations went up,? Mr. Zebari said. ?They were hopeful, optimistic that this new surge, this new plan would provide a better life for them. And this daily killing ? this bomb ? they lose hope. Still the troops haven?t arrived.?

An American military official, responding to accusations that American efforts opened Shiite areas to attacks, said American checkpoints around eastern and central Baghdad last October seemed to reduce the number of car bombs until the checkpoints were removed because of objections from Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and Shiite officials loyal to Mr. Sadr. The official was not authorized to comment about the subject and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the American military spokesman in Iraq, called for patience as the new security plan rolls out. ?Give the government and coalition forces a chance to fully implement it,? he said in remarks carried by several news agencies.

His comments, however, came as more than a dozen mortar shells crashed on Adhamiya, a Sunni area of eastern Baghdad, in what appeared to be an act of retaliation by Shiites. At least 15 people were killed and more than 56 wounded, an Interior Ministry official said.

Clashes in western Baghdad between Sunni and Shiite militias left 7 dead and 11 wounded, and the authorities found 35 bodies throughout the city, many showing signs of torture.

Meanwhile in the streets of Sadriya, the poor, mostly Shiite area of central Baghdad where the bomb exploded on Saturday, merchants and residents struggled to contain their anger.

?I saw with my own eyes young children flying from the windows of the apartments on top of the shops when the explosion arrived,? said Haydar Abdul Jabbar, 28, a car mechanic who was standing near a barber shop when the bomb exploded. ?One woman threw herself out of the window when the fire came close to her.?

Mr. Abdul Jabbar said he rushed to collapsed buildings trying to help the wounded, but found mainly hands, skulls and other body parts.

?The government is supposed to protect us, but they are not doing their job,? he said. ?I watch the TV and see the announcements on the imminent implementation of the security plan. Where is it, for God?s sake??

?I wish they would attack us with a nuclear bomb and kill us all,? he added, ?so we will rest and anybody who wants the oil ? which is the core of the problem ? can come and get it. We can not live this way anymore. We are dying slowly every day.?

The truck exploded around dusk on Saturday at a market flush with crowded food stands. The crater from the blast was large enough to hold a sedan; the blast threw the truck?s gnarled engine block more than 100 yards away.

As the sun rose on Sunday, the rescue effort continued with workers and relatives tugging at concrete pieces in a mad search for victims amid the piles of debris where apartments and offices once stood. Processions heavy with death moved through the area. Men lashed simple wood coffins to the top of minibuses for the long journey to cemeteries, while families in the backs of trucks wailed after collecting the bodies of relatives.

While the American military put out a statement saying that the Iraqi Army assisted at the scene, the area closest to the crater was controlled by the Mahdi Army. Between 8 and 15 men dressed in black and carrying AK-47s, waved reporters away on Sunday morning.

The scene was thick with anger directed at the Iraqi government and American military for letting the people down and allowing such a devastating attack. When asked about the ?tragedy? of the blast, one Mahdi guard responded, ?The only tragedy was when we voted for weak officials.?

He then pointed toward the bombed-out buildings and added, ?This is the result.?

Later, when two American Humvees and an Iraqi patrol passed just after 1 p.m., one of the men in black called the soldiers ?apes and cowards.?

?They?re the ones who brought us the catastrophe,? one of them said. ?If they were not here such a thing wouldn?t happen to us.?

Mr. Abdul Jabbar, the car mechanic, was one of many Iraqis who said that the American military would have been better off leaving the Mahdi Army in charge of Shiite neighborhoods.

Uday Ahmed, 31, a Sunni whose three restaurants at the market were obliterated by the blast, killing 20 of his workers, said that until a few weeks ago, Mahdi militiamen were more visible on the streets, checking vehicles, watching and offering to arbitrate disputes. After American and Iraqi officials arrested several top Mahdi commanders last month, he said, many of the Mahdi militants drifted into the shadows or fled.

He said their departure contributed to the recent spasm of violence in Shiite neighborhoods.

Some Shiites in the area said that the truck could have been stopped at a checkpoint, decreasing damage from its payload. Hussein Ali, 57, said Shiite militiamen might have recognized that the driver was not from the neighborhood.

?They don?t have any system or apparatus to check the cars,? he said. ?But they know from looking at the faces who is supposed to come to Sadriya to bring vegetables or fruits. They have a relationship with the merchants.?

Iraqi officials, after meeting with American military commanders, are expected to announce as early as Monday that they have agreed on some of the details of the command structure for the new security plan.

American military officials say that the Iraqi officer who will lead his forces participating in the new Baghdad security effort, Lt. Gen. Aboud Qanbar, will take command on Monday and that the Baghdad plan will be carried out soon.

McCain Criticizes War Resolution

WASHINGTON, Feb. 4 ? On the eve of a Senate showdown over a bipartisan resolution opposing President Bush?s war strategy in Iraq, Senator John McCain of Arizona, a leading Republican critic of the measure, accused its sponsors Sunday of intellectual dishonesty. He described the nonbinding resolution as a ?vote of no confidence in both the mission and the troops who are going over there.?

He said on the ABC News program ?This Week? that if the sponsors wanted to block Mr. Bush?s plans to expand the American troop presence in Iraq, they should be brave enough to vote to cut off financing.

A principal Republican backer of the resolution, Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, said on the same program that it was important for the Senate to make a clear stand against the troop building, which he said would produce only more turmoil.

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, a Democratic supporter of the resolution, said she was frustrated that Republican leaders would try to filibuster to block a vote. ?Look, debate is going on in every schoolyard, in every state, in every city of this nation,? she said on CNN?s ?Late Edition,? describing the proposed filibuster as ?obstructionism.?

Reporting was contributed by Wisam A. Habeeb, Qais Mizher, Khalid W. Hassan, Marc Santora, James Glanz and Iraqi employees of The New York Times from Baghdad, and Philip Shenon from Washington.

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