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Kerry Finds Ammunition in Intelligence Estimate

Yesterday, Vice President Cheney used Kerry's Senate record against him. "Today, while speaking to the National Guard Association, John Kerry said that our troops deserve no less than the best," Cheney said in a campaign stop in Reno, Nev. "But I am stunned by the audacity of his statement -- Senator Kerry voted to send our troops into combat, and then denied them the support they needed once they were at war. We need a president who will back our troops 100 percent, and that's exactly what we've got in George W. Bush."

A White House spokesman yesterday declined to release the July National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, citing its classification.

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Government officials, however, said the report identified serious problems in recruiting and training an effective Iraqi army and police force, establishing a competent central government and rebuilding significant Iraqi infrastructure. The report states in its "key judgments" section that the majority of Iraqis support self-governance -- without U.S. involvement.

Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate intelligence panel, released a statement yesterday saying he had reviewed the estimate, calling it "a fair, well-written piece. Any honest assessment would recognize that the next couple of years will be very challenging for the Iraqi government and for the U.S."

White House spokesmen and other administration officials yesterday said the document did not offer any new insights. "Iraqi leaders and the Iraqi people have proven the pessimists wrong every step of the way," McClellan said. "There are areas where difficulties remain, and there are ongoing security threats . . . but the Iraqi people are determined to build a free and peaceful future."

Administration officials plan to use next week's U.S. visit by Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi as the centerpiece of an effort to showcase progress toward democracy.

The new NIE is the same type of broad intelligence assessment conducted in October 2002 that concluded Saddam Hussein's government possessed weapons of mass destruction, a finding presented by the administration as one of the main justifications for war.

No such weapons have been found, and the 2002 NIE has in the past year been at the center of calls for revamping and improving U.S. intelligence.

More recent intelligence assessments on Iraq after Hussein appear to be more perceptive.

In January 2003, three months before the war began, for example, the CIA predicted that Iraq would likely split along ethnic and religious lines and that creating a representative democracy would be "long-term, difficult and problematic."

Agency officials told the White House that there would be three to four months of goodwill toward U.S. troops before the Iraqi population turned hostile toward what it would see as an occupying force, according to a senior intelligence official who took part in the discussion.

VandeHei reported from Las Vegas. Staff writers Mike Allen, traveling with Bush, and Lisa Rein, traveling with Cheney, contributed to this report.

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