Bleak Iraq Report Is Sent to Congress

National security adviser Stephen J. Hadley said the Iraq report
National security adviser Stephen J. Hadley said the Iraq report "explains why the president concluded that a . . . new strategy was required." (By Gerald Herbert -- Associated Press)
By Karen DeYoung and Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 3, 2007

The U.S. intelligence community yesterday released a starkly pessimistic assessment of the situation in Iraq, warning that even if security improves, deepening sectarian divisions threaten to destroy the government and ultimately could lead to anarchy, partition or the emergence of a new dictatorship.

Citing "the current winner-take-all attitude and sectarian animosities infecting the political scene," declassified judgments of a new National Intelligence Estimate predicted that Iraqi leaders will be "hard pressed" to reconcile over the next 18 months.

Despite the stepped-up training and U.S. support for Iraqi security forces -- major parts of the new Iraq strategy President Bush announced last month -- the estimate concluded that the Iraqi military will find it very difficult to carry out any new responsibilities or to operate independently against sectarian militias.

The administration struggled yesterday to put the best face on the NIE's assessment of a bleak situation that it says will sharply worsen unless "measurable" military and political progress is made.

National security adviser Stephen J. Hadley said the estimate "explains why the president concluded that a new approach and new strategy was required." He said Bush received extensive intelligence input before he announced his new plan, which includes the deployment of 21,500 additional U.S. combat troops to Iraq.

The NIE did not directly address the effect of sending more troops. But one section supported the administration's public insistence that U.S. forces are "an essential stabilizing element in Iraq." Their rapid withdrawal, the NIE said, "almost certainly would lead" to increased sectarian violence and make reconciliation more difficult.

The release of the estimate -- written over the past five months by the intelligence community's top Iraq analysts and approved by the heads of the CIA, the intelligence units at the Pentagon and those at the State and Justice departments -- comes on the eve of next week's Senate debate on the increase in U.S. forces in Iraq.

Key Democrats in Congress embraced the estimate to bolster their rejection of Bush's plan. "I do not see anything, so far, in the report that suggests the president's new plan is a winning strategy that protects America's national interest," said Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.).

The entire 90-page, classified NIE, titled "Prospects for Iraq's Stability: A Challenging Road Ahead," was delivered to Congress yesterday morning after most members had left for the weekend.

Three and a half pages of "Key Judgments," unanimously agreed upon by the intelligence community, were released to the public. Although three dissents are included in the body of the classified document, they were described as tangential to the main conclusions. They deal with the extent to which the Syrian government controls the movement of foreign fighters across its border with Iraq and the extent and activities of al-Qaeda in Iran.

The tough and unequivocal wording reflects the determination within the intelligence community to prove its independence from political pressure. The community came under harsh criticism for its 2002 assessment of then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's weapons programs, much of which proved to be inaccurate.

Though the administration has repeatedly asserted that al-Qaeda and Iranian operatives are responsible for provoking much of the violence in Iraq, the NIE played down their roles. Analysts studied what would happen if Iran were not a factor inside Iraq and concluded that, even though Iranian agents target U.S. troops, the absence of Tehran's agents would not appreciably alter the sectarian conflict.

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