U.S. sees increased stability in Iraq
‘Measurable’ reforms made since January
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.