U.S. sees in­creased sta­bil­ity in Iraq

‘Mea­sur­able’ re­forms made since Jan­uary

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Bill Gertz and S.A. Miller

Grow­ing Sunni op­po­si­tion to al Qaeda and in some cases the per­cep­tion that U.S. troops will leave the coun­try are key fac­tors be­hind re­cent and grow­ing sta­bil­ity in Iraq, ac­cord­ing to a ma­jor U.S. intelligence re­port based on find­ings from 16 agen­cies.

The up­dated Na­tional Intelligence Es­ti­mate (NIE), a con­sen­sus view of the CIA, the De­fense Intelligence Agency and other ser­vices, says “mea­sur­able” se­cu­rity im­prove­ments were made in war-torn Iraq since Jan­uary and will ex­pand mod­estly in the next 12 months with con­tin­ued mil­i­tary pres­sure on in­sur­gents.

Within hours of the re­port’s re­lease, Sen. John W. Warner of Vir­ginia called on Pres­i­dent Bush to bring some U.S. troops home by Christ­mas, and Army Sec­re­tary Pete Geren ruled out ex­tend­ing troop de­ploy­ments be­yond the cur­rent 15 months.

Mr. Warner, the for­mer chair­man of the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices

Com­mit­tee, said a small-scale with­drawal — per­haps 5,000 of the 160,000 troops in Iraq — would prod the Iraqi gov­ern­ment to­ward the po­lit­i­cal rec­on­cil­i­a­tion needed to stem sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence.

The re­port’s un­clas­si­fied key judg­ments warned that “lev­els of in­sur­gent and sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence will re­main high, and the Iraqi gov­ern­ment will con­tinue to strug­gle to achieve na­tional-level po­lit­i­cal rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.”

White House na­tional se­cu­rity spokesman Gor­don John­droe, with the va­ca­tion­ing Pres­i­dent Bush in Craw­ford, Texas, said strat­egy changes are pay­ing off, and clas­si­fied parts of the re­port are be­ing used to plan the way ahead in Iraq.

“While the Fe­bru­ary NIE con­cluded that con­di­tions in Iraq were wors­en­ing, to­day’s key judg­ments clearly show that the mil­i­tary’s coun­terin­sur­gency strat­egy, fully op­er­a­tional since mid-sum­mer, has be­gun to slow the rapidly in­creas­ing vi­o­lence and pat­terns of the vi­o­lence we’ve been see­ing in Iraq,” he said.

The new es­ti­mate pro­vided am­mu­ni­tion for both Capi­tol Hill Democrats and Repub­li­cans as the sides en­trench them­selves for con­tin­ued leg­isla­tive bat­tles in Septem­ber over the war’s fu­ture.

“To­day’s Na­tional Intelligence Es­ti­mate on Iraq con­firms what most Amer­i­cans al­ready know: Our troops are mired in an Iraqi civil war, and the pres­i­dent’s es­ca­la­tion strat­egy has failed to pro­duce the po­lit­i­cal re­sults he promised to our troops and the Amer­i­can peo­ple,” said Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid, Ne­vada Demo­crat.

Sen. Joseph R. Bi­den Jr., Delaware Demo­crat and a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, said the es­ti­mate shows that the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion pol­icy in Iraq is “fa­tally flawed” be­cause it con­firmed the weak­nesses of the Iraqi gov­ern­ment.

Democrats — in­clud­ing the party’s 2008 pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls — re­cently be­gan ac­knowl­edg­ing mil­i­tary suc­cesses in Iraq while be­moan­ing the fail­ures of the fledg­ling Iraqi gov­ern­ment. It al­lows them to avoid crit­i­cism for naysay­ing U.S. mil­i­tary achieve­ments while still ad­vo­cat­ing a speedy pull­out.

House Mi­nor­ity Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Repub­li­can, said that the es­ti­mate con­firms Repub­li­cans’ views about the suc­cess of troops bat­tling al Qaeda and that the rapid with­drawal from Iraq that Democrats have pur­sued leg­isla­tively will lead to greater in­sta­bil­ity.

The re­port shows the “suc­cesses of our troops in com­bat­ing al Qaeda in Iraq and un­der­scores the con­se­quences of a pre­cip­i­tous with­drawal,” Mr. Boehner said.

The White House said the pres­i­dent would await the mid-Septem­ber progress re­port from Army Gen. David H. Pe­traeus, U.S. com­man­der in Iraq, and then re­port to Congress about the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s war plans. That was the process des­ig­nated in the emer­gency war­fund­ing bill Congress passed in March.

“It also is the ap­pro­pri­ate course of ac­tion to see where things stand by hear­ing from our U.S. rep­re­sen­ta­tives on the ground, where things stand on the se­cu­rity front and where things stand on the po­lit­i­cal front,” Mr. John­droe said.

One se­nior intelligence an­a­lyst noted the in­creas­ing Sunni re­jec­tion of al Qaeda — which has re­sulted from Mus­lim lead­ers be­liev­ing that the group is chal­leng­ing their tra­di­tional author­ity and from al Qaeda’s mass killings of Sun­nis — and called it a key el­e­ment of the im­proved se­cu­rity in the coun­try.

“We con­sider it to be one of the two most sig­nif­i­cant changes in the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in Iraq, with po­ten­tial po­lit­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions down the road,” said the an­a­lyst, who took part in pro­duc­ing the es­ti­mate.

On the per­cep­tions among Iraqis that U.S. troops will leave, the of­fi­cial said it is not clear whether the fears of a U.S. troop pull­out are hav­ing a pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive ef­fect. In some cases, the con­cern trans­lates into in­creased sup­port for coali­tion forces and the Iraqi gov­ern­ment, while in other cases it is prompt­ing fac­tions within Iraq to im­prove their po­si­tions for a power strug­gle af­ter U.S. troops leave or are re­duced greatly in num­bers, the of­fi­cials said.

Se­nior U.S. intelligence of­fi­cials who briefed re­porters on the es­ti­mate said no an­a­lysts in­volved in the re­port are call­ing the con­flict in Iraq a civil war.

Mean­while, Mr. Warner’s pro­posal got a cool re­cep­tion from Demo­cratic lead­ers, who have re­peat­edly failed to draw enough Repub­li­can sup­port to force Mr. Bush to ac­cept a troop-with­drawal timetable.

“A rec­om­men­da­tion for the pres­i­dent is far dif­fer­ent from vot­ing for bind­ing leg­isla­tive lan­guage com­pelling the pres­i­dent to act,” a Demo­cratic lead­er­ship aide said.

Re­gard­less of the rec­om­men­da­tion by Mr. Warner, a long­time critic of the war ef­fort, some level of troop draw­down is ex­pected by next spring be­cause of the strain on mil­i­tary re­serves caused by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. Geren told the As­so­ci­ated Press Aug. 23 that the stress of long de­ploy­ments was hurt­ing mil­i­tary fam­i­lies and in­creas­ing the num­ber of sui­cides. But Mr. Geren, who was con­firmed in the Army’s top civil­ian post in July, also crit­i­cized any con­gres­sional ef­forts to man­date de­ploy­ment lengths or rest time at home.

“That type of mi­cro­man­age­ment is just not some­thing that would help us,” he said.

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