The insurgency in Iraq continues to baffle the U.S. military and intelligence communities, and the U.S. occupation has become a potent recruiting tool for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, top U.S. national security officials told Congress yesterday.
"Islamic extremists are exploiting the Iraqi conflict to recruit new anti-U.S. jihadists," CIA Director Porter J. Goss told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
"These jihadists who survive will leave Iraq experienced and focused on acts of urban terrorism," he said. "They represent a potential pool of contacts to build transnational terrorist cells, groups and networks in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries."
On a day when the top half-dozen U.S. national security and intelligence officials went to Capitol Hill to talk about the continued determination of terrorists to strike the United States, their statements underscored the unintended consequences of the war in Iraq.
"The Iraq conflict, while not a cause of extremism, has become a cause for extremists," Goss said in his first public testimony since taking over the CIA. Goss said Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian terrorist who has joined al Qaeda since the U.S. invasion, "hopes to establish a safe haven in Iraq" from which he could operate against Western nations and moderate Muslim governments.
"Our policies in the Middle East fuel Islamic resentment," Vice Adm. Lowell E. Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Senate panel. "Overwhelming majorities in Morocco, Jordan and Saudi Arabia believe the U.S. has a negative policy toward the Arab world."
Jacoby said the Iraq insurgency has grown "in size and complexity over the past year" and is now mounting an average of 60 attacks per day, up from 25 last year. Attacks on Iraq's election day last month reached 300, he said, double the previous one-day high of 150, even though transportation was virtually locked down.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told the House Armed Services Committee that he has trouble believing any of the estimates of the number of insurgents because it is so difficult to track them.
Rumsfeld said that the CIA and DIA had differing assessments at different times but that U.S. intelligence estimates of the insurgency are "considerably lower" than a recent Iraqi intelligence report of 40,000 hard-core insurgents and 200,000 part-time fighters. Rumsfeld told Rep. Ike Skelton (Mo.), the committee's ranking Democrat, that he had copies of the CIA and DIA estimates but declined to disclose them in a public session because they are classified.
"My job in the government is not to be the principal intelligence officer and try to rationalize differences between the Iraqis, the CIA and the DIA," Rumsfeld testified. "I see these reports. Frankly, I don't have a lot of confidence in any of them."
After the hearing, Rumsfeld told reporters that he did not mean to be "dismissive" of the intelligence reports.
"People are doing the best that can be done, and the fact is that people disagree," he said. ". . . It's not clear to me that the number is the overriding important thing."
Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House panel that the extremists associated with al Qaeda and Zarqawi represent "a fairly small percentage of the total number of insurgents."
Sunni Arabs, dominated by former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, "comprise the core of the insurgency" and continue to provide "funds and guidance across family, tribal, religious and peer-group lines," Jacoby said.