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Insurgency is working, 3 agencies warn Bush
By Warren P. Strobel, John Walcott and Jonathan S. Landay
Knight Ridder
Posted on Sat, Dec. 18, 2004

WASHINGTON - The CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the State Department have warned President Bush that the United States and its Iraqi allies are not winning the battle against Iraqi insurgents who are trying to derail the country's Jan. 30 elections, according to administration officials.

The officials, who agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity because intelligence estimates are classified, said the battle in Iraq was not lost and that successful elections might yet be held next month.

But they said the warnings -- including one delivered this week to Bush by CIA Director Porter Goss -- indicated that U.S. forces had not been able to stop the insurgents' intimidation of Iraqi voters, candidates and others who want to participate in the elections.

``We don't have an answer to the intimidation,'' one senior official said.

Nor have the United States and the interim Iraqi government been able to find any divisions they can exploit to divide and conquer the Sunni Muslim insurgency, the intelligence reports say.

The elections are key to U.S. strategy in Iraq, and Bush and his team have insisted that they proceed as scheduled.

The president and other top White House officials have steadfastly predicted that the insurgency will fail, even as they have acknowledged lately that violence is rising.

``The terrorists will do all they can to delay and disrupt free elections in Iraq, and they will fail,'' Bush told cheering Marines last week in Camp Pendleton.

But several of the officials said a vital effort to woo Sunnis, who held privileged status under Saddam Hussein and are now spearheading the insurgency, has not borne fruit.

``It all boils down to the aura of the former regime. I think there are a lot of people sitting on the fence. They don't want to be seen as collaborating,'' one defense official said.

The Iraqi election is key to Bush's oft-stated belief that democracy and elections can transform the troubled Middle East. That broader policy faces another reality check Jan. 9, when Palestinians go to the polls to select a leader to replace the late Yasser Arafat.

Bush and Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice have signaled that pushing political and economic reform in the Middle East will be a second-term priority.

Bush, speaking at Camp Pendleton, held Iraq up as a model: ``The success of democracy in Iraq will also inspire others across the Middle East to defend their own freedom.''

Yet even a successful election in Iraq might not be the model the United States wants to hold up to the rest of the region.

Iraq's majority Shiite Muslims are expected to dominate the parliament, and there are concerns that the new government could have close ties to Iran and a theocratic bent.

A theocratic state in Iraq ``is not exactly what the United States or the Europeans had in mind before the war,'' said Abdeslam Maghraoui, the director of the Muslim World Initiative at the Washington-based U.S. Institute of Peace.