By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Two intelligence assessments from January 2003 predicted that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and subsequent U.S. occupation of Iraq could lead to internal violence and provide a boost to Islamic extremists and terrorists in the region, according to congressional sources and former intelligence officials familiar with the prewar studies.
The two assessments, titled "Principal Challenges in Post-Saddam Iraq" and "Regional Consequences of Regime Change in Iraq," were produced by the National Intelligence Council (NIC) and will be a major part of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's long-awaited Phase II report on prewar intelligence assessments about Iraq. The assessments were delivered to the White House and to congressional intelligence committees before the war started.
The committee chairman, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), and the vice chairman, Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.), announced earlier this month that the panel had asked Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell to declassify the report for public release. Congressional sources said the two NIC assessments are to be declassified and would be part of a portion of the Phase II report that could be released within the next week.
The assessment on post-Hussein Iraq included judgments that while Iraq was unlikely to split apart, there was a significant chance that domestic groups would fight each other and that ex-regime military elements could merge with terrorist groups to battle any new government. It even talks of guerrilla warfare, according to congressional sources and former intelligence officials.
The second NIC assessment discussed "political Islam being boosted and the war being exploited by terrorists and extremists elsewhere in the region," one former senior analyst said. It also suggested that fear of U.S. military dominance and occupation of a Middle East country -- one sacred to Islam -- would attract foreign Islamic fighters to the area.
The NIC assessments paint "a very sobering and, as it has turned out, mostly accurate picture of the aftermath of the invasion," according to a former senior intelligence officer familiar with the studies. He sought anonymity because he is not authorized to speak about still-classified assessments.
The former senior official said that after the NIC papers were distributed to senior government officials, he was told by one CIA briefer that a senior Defense Department official had said they were "too negative" and that the papers "did not see the possibilities" the removal of Hussein would present.
A member of the Senate committee, without disclosing the contents of the studies, said recently that the release will raise more questions about the Bush administration's lack of preparation for the war's aftermath.
In his book, "At the Center of the Storm," former CIA director George J. Tenet discussed the NIC assessments as well as prewar intelligence analyses his own agency prepared on the same issues. Some of the language in the CIA reports that Tenet describes are similar to judgments in the NIC assessments because the agency is a major contributor to such papers, according to present and former intelligence analysts.
While Tenet admits that the CIA expected Shiites in southern Iraq, "long oppressed by Saddam, to open their arms to anyone who removed him," he said agency analysts were "not among those who confidently expected coalition forces to be greeted as liberators."
Tenet writes that the initial good feeling among most Iraqis that Hussein was out of power "would last for only a short time before old rivalries and ancient ethnic tensions resurfaced." The former intelligence analyst said such views also reflected the views in the NIC paper on post-Hussein Iraq.
The NIC assessments also projected the view that a long-term Western military occupation would be widely unacceptable, particularly to the Iraqi military. It also said Iraqis would wait and see whether the new governing authority, whether foreign or Iraqi, would provide security and basic services such as water and electricity.
Tenet wrote that the NIC paper on Iraq said that "Iraqi political culture is so imbued with norms alien to the democratic experience . . . that it may resist the most vigorous and prolonged democratic treatments."
The senior intelligence official said that the prewar analysis of challenges in post-Hussein Iraq contained little in the way of classified information since it was an assessment of future situations and was almost all analysis. The assessment of regional consequences of regime change in Iraq would require deletions since it contains "comments on the policies and perspectives of some friendly governments."
The committee focused on the two NIC assessments -- rather than analyses by the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency or the State Department -- because they were written under the supervision of national intelligence officers and coordinated with all intelligence agencies. Such papers are similar to more formal National Intelligence Estimates except they are not finalized and approved by the National Foreign Intelligence Board, made up of the heads of the agencies.