Intelligence of­fi­cials see grow­ing sec­tar­ian split in Iraq

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Bill Gertz

Sec­tar­ian di­vi­sions and re­lated vi­o­lence in Iraq are grow­ing, as al Qaeda re­mains the most se­ri­ous na­tional-se­cu­rity threat fac­ing the United States, se­nior U.S. intelligence of­fi­cials told Congress on Jan. 11.

Di­rec­tor of Na­tional Intelligence John D. Ne­gro­ponte said dur­ing the an­nual threat brief­ing for the Se­nate intelligence com­mit­tee that “sec­tar­ian di­vi­sions are widen­ing,” de­spite ef­forts by the new gov­ern­ment.

De­fense Intelligence Agency Di­rec­tor Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples told the hear­ing that “vi­o­lence in Iraq, as mea­sured over the past year, con­tin­ued to in­crease in scope, com­plex­ity and lethal­ity.’

The intelligence of­fi­cials painted a dire pic­ture of the in­sur­gency in Iraq and spoke a day af­ter Pres­i­dent Bush an­nounced a new plan to sta­bi­lize Bagh­dad with an ad­di­tional 21,500 troops.

Mr. Ne­gro­ponte said Iraq is “at a pre­car­i­ous junc­ture.”

“Com­mu­nal vi­o­lence ac­cel­er­ated by the at­tack on the Sa­marra mosque in Fe­bru­ary 2006 — and scant com­mon ground be­tween Shi’as, Sun­nis and Kurds have po­lar­ized pol­i­tics,” Mr. Ne­gro­ponte said.

Ad­di­tion­ally, po­lit­i­cal fac­tions are un­able to com­pro­mise on key is­sues and pub­lic ser­vices are in­ad­e­quate, in­clud­ing a de­cline in the daily hours of elec­tri­cal power, while oil out­put re­mains be­low pre­war lev­els, he said.

“With po­lit­i­cal rec­on­cil­i­a­tion stalled, Iraqis in­creas­ingly re­sort to vi­o­lence,” Mr. Ne­gro­ponte said.

The gov­ern­ment’s most se­nior intelligence of­fi­cial said sta­bi­liz­ing Iraq in the next year will de­pend on the Iraqi gov­ern­ment’s abil­ity to cre­ate na­tional in­stead of sec­tar­ian-ruled in­sti­tu­tions.

Ad­di­tion­ally, Mr. Ne­gro­ponte warned that the ter­ror­ist threat from the Ira­nian-backed ter­ror group Hezbol­lah is in­creas­ing.

He noted that re­cent fight­ing by Hezbol­lah against Is­rael in Le­banon, “could cause the group to in­crease its con­tin­gency plan­ning against U.S. in­ter­ests.”

On China, Mr. Ne­gro­ponte said Bei­jing is con­tin­u­ing its rapid mil­i­tary buildup, in­clud­ing plac­ing large num­bers of mis­siles op­po­site Tai­wan, but de­spite this, “prospects of a cross-strait con­flict with Tai­wan have di­min­ished.”

FBI Di­rec­tor Robert S. Mueller III told the hear­ing that al Qaeda is plan­ning at­tacks in the United States through “in­fil­trat­ing op­er­a­tives” from over­seas and that the group is seek­ing to use some form of chem­i­cal, bi­o­log­i­cal, ra­di­o­log­i­cal or nu­clear ma­te­rial in weapons.

“Al Qaeda’s choice of tar­gets and at­tack meth­ods will most likely con­tinue to fo­cus on eco­nomic tar­gets such as avi­a­tion, the en­ergy sec­tor and mass tran­sit; soft tar­gets such as large pub­lic gath­er­ings; and sym­bolic tar­gets such as mon­u­ments and gov­ern­ment Mueller said.

Gen. Maples said some de­vel­op­ments in Iraq “give hope for progress,” al­though “the Sunni Arab-based in­sur­gency con­tin­ues to gain strength and ca­pac­ity.”

The three-star gen­eral also warned that Iraq is in dan­ger of a break­down of cen­tral author­ity that would pose a threat to the Iraq, the re­gion and U.S. strate­gic in­ter­ests.

“DIA judges that con­tin­ued coali­tion pres­ence is the pri­mary counter to a break­down of cen­tral author­ity,” Gen. Maples said.

“The con­flict re­mains a sec­tar­ian strug­gle for power and the right to de­fine Iraq’s fu­ture iden­tity,” Gen. Maples said, not­ing that at­tacks av­er­aged 160 per day in De­cem­ber, down slightly from 180 a day in Oc­to­ber.

Ten per­cent of the in­sur­gents in Iraq are for­eign ter­ror­ists, many of whom are dis­patched to the coun­try to con­duct sui­cide car bomb­ings, Gen. Maples said.

build­ings,” Mr.

Ne­gro­ponte

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