By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Days after the United States invaded Iraq, senior U.S. officials were warned that Iraqi Sunnis would strongly resist American troops' occupation efforts, according to testimony given yesterday before Senate Democrats.
Wayne White, a former deputy director in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, told senators that when British soldiers were forced to repeatedly take the port city of Umm Qasr from Iraqi guerrillas, "I knew then and there that we would have a serious problem on our hands."
"I quickly warned, around the first week or 10 days of the war . . . that this spelled danger as we moved farther north, especially into Iraq's Sunni Arab heartland," White told the Senate Democratic Policy Committee.
The advisory came in a formal bureau assessment that typically goes to senior officials at the State Department.
Noting that a Sunni insurgency began to gather momentum only after conventional fighting ended in May 2003, White said, "My warning was accurate, just a tad premature."
Yesterday's hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building was conducted, said committee Chairman Byron L. Dorgan (N.D.), "to understand what has happened in the recent past and what lessons can be learned from that with respect to the future."
Dorgan said he had invited Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), who runs the Republican Policy Committee, to join the session, but Kyl declined.
Witnesses who came before the senators included Paul R. Pillar, a longtime CIA analyst and a former national intelligence officer covering Iraq, and Lawrence B. Wilkerson, chief of staff to then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.
White and Pillar both discussed the lack of Middle East experience by White House officials, including President Bush and Vice President Cheney, who pushed for the Iraq invasion. White said that "lack was a major impediment to sound policymaking if one already does not have an open mind and is driven by a particular agenda."
Pillar said "little if any" of the warnings such as White's, on the problems that would be faced in post-Hussein Iraq, "influenced the decision-making on going to war."
Assessments by the intelligence community, Pillar said, showed that the "political culture" of Iraq "would not provide fertile ground for democracy," and analysts foresaw "a significant chance that the sectarian and ethnic groups would engage in violent conflict unless an occupying power prevented it."
They also predicted that the occupying forces would become targets and that "war and occupation would boost political Islam, increase sympathy for terrorist objectives and make Iraq a magnet for extremists from elsewhere in the Middle East," Pillar said.
White's and Pillar's testimony marked the first time intelligence assessments on postwar Iraq have been specifically discussed in a congressional session.