US intelligence report projects deteriorating situation in Iraq

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.

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.

But Mr. Beehner goes on to write that the US still accuses Iran of being involved in Iraq on several key front including security, religious issues (the US believes that one-third of the 2000 Iranian religious students in Karbala and Quds are Iranian intelligence agents) and the economy. But as far assigns of "intensified" Iranian involvement in Iraq is concerned, Joost Hiltermann, Middle East program director of the International Crisis Group, say Iranian activity in Iraq is "not a new phenomenon."

Tehran, for example, has had intelligence operatives in northern Iraq for the past two decades, including base offices in Irbil and Sulaymaniya, and enjoys close ties with Kurdish leaders. Iran's most recent alleged transgressions – support for Iraq's Shiite militias – stretches back to at least 2004, experts say. Lawrence J. Korb of the Center for American Progress believes the Bush administration is pushing a strategy to get more aggressive on Tehran. "This is not about Iraq," he says. "It's about Iran."

In a review of Arab editorials in the region, The Middle East Times points out that Arab media are also split on the issue of Iran. An editorial in Egypt's Al Gumhuriya argues that President Bush is preparing to attack Iran in order to save face after his problems in Iraq.

The semi-official daily remarked that rather than admitting defeat, Bush was hoping to save face by preparing for a new adventure against Iran, after having "discovered that his destruction of Iraq has made US interests open to threats in the Gulf [from] Iranian shores."

The newspaper argued this meant the entire Middle East was now threatened by the anti-Iran war plans of its "American friend" and called for the regional countries to prevent another confrontation.

But the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Qabas accused Iranian and Iraqi officials of working together against the US.

The pro-government daily said [maps confiscated from Iranians who were arrested by American forces] were a sign the Iranian government was planning to set off sectarian sedition in Iraq through the random killings of innocent civilians and US soldiers.

"The killing of the coalition troops is [taking place] because of an alliance between the [Iranian] Revolutionary Guards and the Iraqi government, with the cooperation of [Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri] Al Maliki who is of Iranian origin," the paper charged.

A report on Stratfor, the military intelligence site (subscription needed), notes that the mistaken comments made by French President Jacques Chirac this week and later withdrawn (Chirac originally said that even if Iran did have a nuclear weapon or two, it would not really be much of a threat) are probably correct, and that Iran's mullah-led regime just wants to have a bomb in order to protect itself from attack by the US and Israel. But Stratfor goes onto say that Israel, not wanting to take any chances and having realized that an overt attack on Iran is not really possible, is conducting covert activities in Iran, hinting that the recent death of a top Iranian nuclear scientist may be connected to Israel's secret service, the Mossad.

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