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    Middle East
     Feb 6, 2007
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Now it's official: Iraq's a mess
By Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON - A long-awaited study by the US intelligence community released last week concludes there is little, if any, light at the end of tunnel in Iraq.

The report, which came on the eve of an unprecedented Senate debate on Monday on President George W Bush's plan to add at least 21,500 troops to the 140,000 US forces already in Iraq, described the current conflict there as a "civil war" that could very

easily lead to the country's de facto partition.

Moreover, even if the additional US troops succeed in reducing the violence over the next year to 18 months, progress toward reaching a political settlement is doubtful given attitudes among the various Iraqi communities and their leaders, according to the report's "Key Judgments", the only part of the report that was released publicly.

"Even if violence is diminished, given the current winner-take-all attitude and sectarian animosities infecting the political scene, Iraqi leaders will be hard pressed to achieve sustained reconciliation in the time frame of this Estimate," according to the report, called a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE).

The NIE, which has been six months in preparation and represents the consensus views of the vast US intelligence community, also stressed that the violence in Iraq is internally generated and sustained, refuting recent suggestions by senior Bush administration officials that Iran is playing a major role in support of Shi'ite militias.

"Iran's neighbors influence, and are influenced by, events within Iraq, but the involvement of these outside actors is not likely to be a major driver of violence or the prospects for stability because of the self-sustaining character of Iraq's internal sectarian dynamics," it said, adding that Iranian "lethal support" for some Shi'ite groups "clearly intensifies the conflict" and that Syria has taken "less than adequate measures to stop the flow of foreign jihadists into Iraq".

Bush's National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley embraced the NIE's key judgments, insisting as well that the intelligence on which it is based has been fully considered by the president in devising his new strategy, including the increase in US combat strength in Iraq, that he announced on January 10.

"We think it is accurate," he said about the report's grim analysis, even as he demurred over the characterization of the conflict as a civil war. "The intelligence assessment that is reflected in this NIE is not at war with the new approach ... the president has developed, but I would say explains why the president concluded that a new strategy was required," he told reporters.

But critics said deep pessimism reflected in the report raised new questions about whether Bush's deployment of more troops would make much difference.

"Rather than convincing me that [Bush's new strategy] is the right approach, the NIE makes it more clear than ever that the president's plan has little chance of success," said Congressman Ike Skelton, chairman of the powerful House Armed Services Committee, who has called for a phased withdrawal of US troops over the next year.

Indeed, at this point, it is difficult to predict how the NIE will affect the growing debate - and dissent - in Congress, including among Republicans, over Bush's plan to send in more troops.

The Senate will take up several non-binding resolutions this week, including one authored by the former Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is considered the most likely to gain a strong bipartisan majority. It explicitly disagrees with Bush's plan.

Another report, released last week by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), has already weakened Bush's position by asserting that his plan, which the administration has repeatedly insisted will send only 21,500 troops, will likely result in many more - as many as 48,000 - going to Iraq when support units are counted.

In contrast to administration estimates that its planned troop "surge" will cost less than US$6 billion, the CBO placed the more

Continued 1 2 

A massacre and a new civil war (Feb 3, '07)

Lawmakers move to restrain Bush on Iraq (Feb 3, '07)

Pilgrims massacred in the 'battle' of Najaf (Feb 2, '07)

Iraq's money for nothing (Feb 2, '07)


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