Kennedy and Levin Want New Report on Iraq Released

By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 4, 2008

A new intelligence report on the situation in Iraq is "essential" to upcoming debates on the war, and its judgments should be publicly released, Sens. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said yesterday in a letter to the head of the nation's intelligence agencies.

Levin and Kennedy asked Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell to release an unclassified summary of the latest National Intelligence Estimate before Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ryan C. Crocker, the ambassador to Iraq, testify April 8 before the Senate Armed Services Committee, which Levin chairs.

Without the NIE, Levin and Kennedy wrote, "Congress and the American people will not have the essential information needed for an informed public debate." The document, an update of two previous assessments publicly released last year, was completed and delivered to Congress on Tuesday.

Several lawmakers familiar with its conclusions declined to provide specifics but said it contained little information beyond public accounts of recent events in Iraq. "The stuff that was positive, they emphasized. The negative, they stated, but deemphasized," said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.). Biden chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which was briefed on the intelligence estimate early this week.

"I was discouraged" by the assessment, Biden said. "I was discouraged by the last one, too."

NIE judgments on Iraq released in February 2007 -- several weeks after President Bush announced an increase in U.S. forces there amid unprecedented levels of violence -- presented a pessimistic assessment, warning that even if security improved, deepening sectarian divides threatened to destroy the Iraqi government. In August, an NIE update cited "measurable but uneven improvements" in the security situation but painted a grim political picture, saying that "Iraq's sectarian groups remain unreconciled."

Violence declined substantially late last year, although it leveled off during the initial months of 2008 and increased dramatically during last week's fighting between Iraqi and U.S. forces and Shiite militias in Baghdad, Basra and elsewhere in southern Iraq. Those conflicts are not substantively addressed in the new report, sources said.

There has been some recent progress on the political front, but Iraq's political groups remain deeply divided along inter- and intra-sectarian lines. Key legislation demanded by both Congress and the Bush administration has yet to be passed or has not been implemented.

NIEs represent the consensus assessment of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies. Although about 300 have been written, only four have been released through unclassified summaries. They include the two last year on Iraq and a 2002 assessment of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that helped justify the 2003 U.S. invasion. Late last year, NIE judgments on Iran that appeared to contradict Bush administration statements about its nuclear weapons program were also released.

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