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A new intelligence report paints a bleak picture of Iraq
McClatchy Newspapers
By Warren P. Strobel and Leila Fadel
August 23, 2007

WASHINGTON — A new assessment of Iraq by U.S. intelligence agencies provides little evidence that the American troop "surge" has accomplished its goals and predicts that the U.S.-backed government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will become "more precarious" in the months ahead.

A declassified summary of the report released Thursday said that violence remains high, warns that U.S. alliances with former Sunni Muslim insurgents could undercut the central government and says that political compromises are "unlikely to emerge" in the next 12 months.

Perhaps most strikingly, U.S. intelligence analysts concluded that factions and political players in and outside Iraq already are maneuvering in expectation of a drawdown of U.S. troops — moves that could later heighten sectarian bloodshed.

"The national intelligence assessment confirms what we feared the most: The U.S. has become deeply embroiled in Iraq's civil war," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee.

A White House spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, said the report, known as a National Intelligence Estimate, showed that President Bush's decision to send an additional 28,000 troops to Iraq is beginning to have an effect.

While it said that the surge has brought "measurable, but uneven improvements in security," the report didn't repeat recent military assertions that civilian deaths have decreased by 50 percent. Instead, it said, "the level of overall violence, including attacks on and casualties among civilians, remains high."

It also suggested that while violence is no longer increasing, any progress might be temporary. "The steep escalation of violence has been checked for now," the report said, noting, "Overall attack levels across Iraq have fallen during seven of the last nine weeks." It provided no specific statistics.

The report also said that al-Qaida in Iraq "retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks," and it warned that the current U.S. tactic of recruiting former Sunni Muslim insurgents to defeat al-Qaida in Iraq — one of the pillars of efforts by Army Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq — could backfire.

Nor has the surge brought about Sunni reconciliation with al-Maliki's government, the report said. Worse, it said, such "bottom-up" security initiatives could pose risks to the al-Maliki government by undermining central authority and reinvigorating armed opposition to the government in Baghdad.

U.S. military spokesmen in Baghdad weren't available for comment.

The report's main conclusions, known as "key judgments," were declassified 2 { weeks before Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are to testify to Congress on Iraq's performance on 18 political, economic and security benchmarks.

The report didn't address each of those points directly, but it concluded that the "broadly accepted political compromises required for sustained security, long-term political progress and economic development are unlikely to emerge unless there is a fundamental shift in the factors driving Iraqi political and security developments."

"To date, Iraqi political leaders remain unable to govern effectively," it said.

In recent days, several U.S. lawmakers have suggested that al-Maliki should step down, and Bush on Tuesday gave the Iraqi leader a less-than-ringing endorsement.

The intelligence estimate says that al-Maliki, while increasingly hemmed in by his opponents, is likely to remain in power — if only because other Shiite Muslim leaders realize that trying to replace him could paralyze the government.

"It's difficult to see an obvious replacement that would garner the majority support you would need," said a senior U.S. intelligence official, one of three who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the estimate frankly.

An Iraqi official close to al-Maliki said the embattled Shiite prime minister has become more isolated from his Shiite and Kurdish allies. Al-Maliki, who's from the Dawa party, the smallest and least powerful in the Shiite alliance, depended on those allies to win his position.

Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst now with the Brookings Institution, a center-left Washington policy organization, said that with summer ending and little real progress in Iraq, Bush has to blame someone.

"The president promised that people will see political progress by the end of the summer, it's here, and the only progress is the Sunnis turning on al-Qaida. Maliki's government is not likely to embrace these Sunnis because the Sunnis are not interested in embracing a Shiite government," Riedel said.

Briefing reporters on the report, a second senior U.S. intelligence official said that when U.S. troops leave Iraq, some Sunni groups "could turn on one another to encourage a greater degree of intra-sectarian conflict."

A similar dynamic is now being seen among Shiite militias in southern Iraq as British troops reduce their presence there.

On other topics, the declassified judgments found that:

_Iraqi Security Forces, while more competent than before, haven't improved enough to conduct major operations independent of U.S. and allied troops.

_Iran "will continue to provide funding, weaponry and training to Iraqi Shia militants" despite U.S. protests.

_Syria has cracked down on Sunni extremist groups trying to infiltrate fighters into Iraq because they threaten Syria's stability, but is providing support to other groups inside Iraq to try to increase its influence there.

(Strobel reported from Washington, Fadel, from Baghdad.)

A PDF file of the full declassified report can be read online at National Intelligence Estimate of August 2007.

http://media.mcclatchydc.com/smedia/2007/08/23/14/NIE_of_8_2007.source.prod_affiliate.91.pdf

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