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US intelligence report projects deteriorating situation in Iraq

By Tom / February 2, 2007

As Congress prepares to debate President Bush's decision to send 21,000 extra troops to Iraq, a new National Intelligence Estimate on the conflict presented to the president Thursday describes "an increasingly perilous situation in which the United States has little control and there is a strong possibility of further deterioration." The Washington Post reports that the document projects possible developments over the next 18 months.

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The document emphasizes that although Al Qaeda activities in Iraq remain a problem, they have been surpassed by Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence as the primary source of conflict and the most immediate threat to US goals. Iran, which the administration has charged with supplying and directing Iraqi extremists, is mentioned but is not a focus.

Taking into account criticism that past NIE have glassed over criticism from intelligence sources, the Post reports that this Estimate contains several dissents that "are prominently displayed so that policy makers understand any disagreements within the intelligence community."

The Associated Press reports that the NIE casts doubts over whether current Iraqi leaders can stabilize the sectarian violence in the country, stop corruption and establish effective national institutions.

TPM, a political investigation site, reports that there is some confusion over whether or not the report will be released to the public. During questioning of US Director of National Intelligence (DNI) nominee Mike McConnell Thursday, Senator Dianne Feinstein said she expected the DNI to release the estimate to Congress Friday. But when a TPM Muckraker reporter called the DNI office, he was told that a copy of the NIE would not be released to the public.

The spokeswoman added that "no decision has been made about declassification" of the NIE. So, unless you've got a security clearance, as of this writing, you're not going to read what the intelligence community assesses about the current state of the Iraq war. Never mind that last week, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) – joined by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Rep.Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), the congressional intelligence committee chairs – called for a public version of the document to be released.

As far as Tehran's involvement in Iraq is concerned, Lionel Beehner of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote Wednesday that " enormous controversy" still swirls around the issue of Iranian influence.

...much of the evidence the United States cites as proof of Iranian involvement remains secret and in some cases is disputed by the Iraqi government, too. This has created an uncomfortable analogy to the period before the Iraq invasion, when secret intelligence ultimately discredited pushed the United States toward war.