National Intelligence Estimate provides bleak assessment of Iraq security
September 16, 2004
WASHINGTON (AP) – The National Intelligence Council presented President Bush this summer with three pessimistic scenarios regarding the security situation in Iraq, including the possibility of a civil war there before the end of 2005.
In a highly classified National Intelligence Estimate, the council looked at the political, economic and security situation in the wartorn country and determined that – at best – a tenuous stability was possible, a U.S. official said late Wednesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The document lays out a second scenario in which increased extremism and fragmentation in Iraqi society impede efforts to build a central government and adversely affect efforts to democratize the country.
In a third, worst-case scenario, the intelligence council contemplated “trend lines that would point to a civil war,” the official said. The potential conflict could be among the country’s three main populations – the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.
It “would be fair” to call the document “pessimistic,” the official added. But “the contents shouldn’t come as a particular surprise to anyone who is following developments in Iraq. It encapsulates trends that are clearly apparent.”
The intelligence estimate, which was prepared for Bush, considered the window of time between July and the end of 2005. But the official noted that the document draws on intelligence community assessments from January 2003, before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the subsequent deteriorating security situation there.
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This latest assessment was initiated by the National Intelligence Council, a group of senior intelligence officials that provides long-term strategic thinking for the entire U.S. intelligence community. It was completed in late August.
Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin and the leaders of the other intelligence agencies approved the intelligence document, which spans about 50 pages.
The estimate appears to differ from the public comments of Bush and his senior aides who speak more optimistically about the prospects for a peaceful and free Iraq. “We’re making progress on the ground,” Bush said at his Texas ranch late last month.
“It states the obvious,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said on Air Force One as Bush flew to a day of campaigning in Minnesota. “It talks about the scenarios and the different challenges we face.” He said it did not reach any conclusions and left it up to policy-makers to act on the information.
A CIA spokesman declined to comment. The document was first reported by The New York Times on its Web site Wednesday night.
In a conference call arranged by the John Kerry presidential campaign, Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., called on the White House to release the new assessment. “The American people need to know the truth,” he said Thursday.
It is the first formal assessment of Iraq since the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on the threat posed by fallen Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
A scathing review of that estimate released this summer by the Senate Intelligence Committee found widespread intelligence failures that led to faulty assumptions that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
Disclosure of the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq came the same day that Senate Republicans and Democrats denounced the Bush administration’s slow progress in rebuilding Iraq, saying the risks of failure are great if it doesn’t act with greater urgency.
“It’s beyond pitiful, it’s beyond embarrassing, it’s now in the zone of dangerous,” said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., referring to figures showing only about 6 percent of the reconstruction money approved by Congress last year has been spent.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee members vented their frustrations at a hearing during which State Department officials explained the administration’s request to divert $3.46 billion in reconstruction funds to security and economic development. The money was part of the $18.4 billion approved by Congress last year, mostly for public works projects.
The request comes as heavy fighting continues between U.S.-led forces and Iraqi insurgents, endangering prospects for elections scheduled for January.
“We know that the provision of adequate security up front is requisite to rapid progress on all other fronts,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Ron Schlicher said.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said circumstances in Iraq have changed since last year. “It’s important that you have some flexibility.”
Hagel, Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and other committee members have long argued – even before the war – that administration plans for rebuilding Iraq were inadequate and based on overly optimistic assumptions that Americans would be greeted as liberators.
But the criticism from the panel’s top Republicans had an extra sting coming less than seven weeks before the U.S. presidential election in which Bush’s handling of the war is a top issue.
“Our committee heard blindly optimistic people from the administration prior to the war and people outside the administration – what I call the ‘dancing in the street crowd’ – that we just simply will be greeted with open arms,” Lugar said. “The nonsense of all of that is apparent. The lack of planning is apparent.”
He said the need to shift the reconstruction funds was clear in July, but the administration was slow to make the request.
State Department officials stressed areas of progress in Iraq since the United States turned over political control of Iraq to an interim government on June 28. They cited advances in generating electricity, producing oil and creating jobs.
Associated Press Writer Ken Guggenheim contributed to this report.