By Walter Pincus and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, May 26, 2007
Months before the invasion of Iraq, U.S. intelligence agencies predicted that it would be likely to spark violent sectarian divides and provide al-Qaeda with new opportunities in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a report released yesterday by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Analysts warned that war in Iraq also could provoke Iran to assert its regional influence and "probably would result in a surge of political Islam and increased funding for terrorist groups" in the Muslim world.
The intelligence assessments, made in January 2003 and widely circulated within the Bush administration before the war, said that establishing democracy in Iraq would be "a long, difficult and probably turbulent challenge." The assessments noted that Iraqi political culture was "largely bereft of the social underpinnings" to support democratic development.
More than four years after the March 2003 invasion, with Iraq still mired in violence and 150,000 U.S. troops there under continued attack from al-Qaeda and Iraqi insurgents, the intelligence warnings seem prophetic. Other predictions, however, were less than accurate. Intelligence analysts assessed that any postwar increase in terrorism would slowly subside in three to five years, and that Iraq's vast oil reserves would quickly facilitate economic reconstruction.
The report is the latest release in the Senate committee's ongoing study of prewar intelligence. A July 2004 report identified intelligence-gathering and analysis failures related to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Still pending is a study of how the administration used intelligence on Iraq in the run-up to the war.
The report was released the same day President Bush signed a $120 billion war funding bill from Congress that includes benchmarks for the Iraqi government.
In a statement attached to yesterday's 229-page report, the Senate intelligence committee's chairman, John D. Rockefeller IV (W.Va.), and three other Democratic panel members said: "The most chilling and prescient warning from the intelligence community prior to the war was that the American invasion would bring about instability in Iraq that would be exploited by Iran and al Qaeda terrorists."
In addition to portraying a terrorist nexus between Iraq and al-Qaeda that did not exist, the Democrats said, the Bush administration "also kept from the American people . . . the sobering intelligence assessments it received at the time" -- that an Iraq war could allow al-Qaeda "to establish the presence in Iraq and opportunity to strike at Americans it did not have prior to the invasion."
Sen. Christopher S. Bond (Mo.), vice chairman of the panel, and three other Republican members said the assessments were "not a crystal ball" and that the warnings emphasized in the committee report "lacked detail or specificity that would have guided military planners." Overall, the Republicans said the report "exaggerates the significance of the prewar assessments" and that the inquiry itself "has become too embroiled in politics and partisanship."
Most of the information in the report was drawn from two lengthy assessments issued by the National Intelligence Council in January 2003, titled "Principal Challenges in Post-Saddam Iraq" and "Regional Consequences of Regime Change in Iraq," both of which the Senate report reprints with only minor redactions. The assessments were requested by Richard N. Haass, then director of policy planning at the State Department, and were written by Paul R. Pillar, the national intelligence officer for the Near East, as a synthesis of views across the 16-agency intelligence community.
The report includes lists indicating that the analyses, which were reported by The Washington Post last week, were distributed at senior levels of the White House and the State and Defense departments and to the congressional armed services and appropriations committees. At the time, the White House and the Pentagon were saying that U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators, democracy would be quickly established and Iraq would become a model for the Middle East. Initial post-invasion plans called for U.S. troop withdrawals to begin in summer 2003.
The classified reports, however, predicted that establishing a stable democratic government would be a long challenge because Iraq's political culture did "not foster liberalism or democracy" and there was "no concept of loyal opposition and no history of alternation of power."
They also said that competing Sunni, Shiite and Kurd factions would "encourage terrorist groups to take advantage of a volatile security environment to launch attacks within Iraq." Because of the divided Iraqi society, there was "a significant chance that domestic groups would engage in violent conflict with each other unless an occupying force prevented them from doing so."
While predicting that terrorist threats heightened by the invasion would probably decline within five years, the assessments said that lines between al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups around the world "could become blurred." U.S. occupation of Iraq "probably would boost proponents of political Islam" throughout the Muslim world and "funds for terrorist groups probably would increase as a result of Muslim outrage over U.S. actions."
In the economic arena, the analysts predicted that oil revenue would greatly ease the rebuilding of Iraq's economy, provided that oil fields and infrastructure were not severely damaged. But, they said, "cuts in electricity or looting of distribution networks would have a cascading disastrous impact" and that large amounts of outside assistance would still be needed to provide services such as water and sanitation.
The assessments, like the Bush administration's public statements, inaccurately predicted that Iraq's oil production could be quickly increased, forecasting that production could rise to 3.1 million barrels a day "within several months of the end of hostilities." The analysts did not foresee that sabotage, theft and continued fighting would leave Iraq with oil production at less than 2.4 million barrels per day.
The Senate panel said it focused on the two NIC assessments because they were the only prewar analyses representing the consensus views of the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research and other agencies. The committee also published excerpts from other prewar reports and assessments from individual agencies.