By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 5, 2006
The office of Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte announced yesterday that it will soon begin drafting an updated National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, a declaration that came amid indications this week that the threat to that country from foreign terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda is receding.
Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of the U.S. Central Command, said Thursday at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Iraq that al-Qaeda in Iraq's ranks had been "significantly depleted" since the June 7 death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Its members, he said, now total "less than 1,000."
That is far below earlier estimates, though several officials said yesterday that not all within the intelligence community agree with Abizaid's number. Over the past year, intelligence and military officials have said foreign fighters made up less than 10 percent of the roughly 20,000 insurgents in Iraq.
And nearly three years after President Bush said in a speech that "Iraq is now the central front" in a global battle against terrorism, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld testified Wednesday before the same committee that it is the "enemy" that "has called Iraq the central front on the war on terrorism, while some on our side seem to argue that the outcome in Iraq is not part of that global war on terror."
The announcement from Negroponte's office came in a statement released yesterday afternoon. No date beyond "shortly" was offered for the expected completion of the intelligence estimate, the first by U.S. intelligence agencies since mid-2004.
The action follows Thursday's vote by the Senate intelligence committee for such a document. The statement by Judith A. Emmel, a spokeswoman in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, made no mention of the Senate amendment nor of a letter from four Democratic senators to Negroponte dated July 26, which first called for the updated intelligence estimate.
The amendment was introduced Wednesday by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who called on Negroponte's office to address in the intelligence estimate the role of terrorism in Iraq.
"We need an assessment from the intelligence community about the extent of the threat from violent, extremist-related terrorism, including al-Qaeda, in and from Iraq," Kennedy said in introducing his amendment.
Also signing the letter to Negroponte were Sens. Harry M. Reid (Nev.), Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) and Jack Reed (R.I.).
Since Negroponte's office has undertaken the intelligence estimate on its own, the National Intelligence Council, which has the responsibility for drawing together the views of the entire intelligence community, will not be limited to the four topics set out by the Senate.
The director of national intelligence "could order his analysts to do a full and comprehensive review no matter what the Senate approved," a Democratic staff member involved in the process said yesterday. "I expect senators will press him to do just that," the staff member added.