On the eve of the mega-hyped 'Baghdad Crackdown', which is supposed to be "last roll of the dice" for the US in Iraq, though of course it won't be, here's two key US media analyses of a long delayed National Intelligence Estimate on the near future of Iraq, and America's role in the bomb-blasted war zone.
The NIE represents the unanimous opinion and fact-checking of the 16 separate agencies that make up the United State 'intelligence community.'
The NIE was widely presented as a "starkly pessimistic" assessment of the Coalition of the Willing's appallingly failed attempt to refashion Iraq into a beacon of democracy in the Middle East.
Iran was presented as being lethally influential in the ongoing attacks on US troops, and a actionary force in Shia-related attacks on Sunnis and growing tensions towards the Kurds in the north of Iraq. A view heavily promoted in recent months by President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and and an endless series of Israeli politicians and Israel-aligned US think tanks.
However, evidential documents from US intel that was supposed to show how Iran was supplying weapons and hardware to Shia insurgents inside Iraq was not included in the NIE, nor have any credible reports been presented to the US Congress on Iran' role.
All passages below are excerpts from longer articles.
From the Washington Post :
...even if security improves, deepening sectarian divisions threaten to destroy the government and ultimately could lead to anarchy, partition or the emergence of a new dictatorship.
Citing "the current winner-take-all attitude and sectarian animosities infecting the political scene," declassified judgments of a new National Intelligence Estimate predicted that Iraqi leaders will be "hard pressed" to reconcile over the next 18 months.
Though the administration has repeatedly asserted that al-Qaeda and Iranian operatives are responsible for provoking much of the violence in Iraq, the NIE played down their roles.
Analysts studied what would happen if Iran were not a factor inside Iraq and concluded that, even though Iranian agents target U.S. troops, the absence of Tehran's agents would not appreciably alter the sectarian conflict.
The sectarian nature of the fighting, along with the "ethno-sectarian mobilization and population displacements," the estimate said, is consistent with the definition of "civil war." But it said the term "does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq, which includes extensive Shia-on-Shia violence, al-Qaeda and Sunni insurgent attacks on Coalition forces, and widely criminally motivated violence."
Despite their majority status, the Shiites who now dominate the government remain "deeply insecure" after decades under the brutal control of Hussein and his Sunni regime, the NIE said. Their insecurity "leads the Shia to mistrust U.S. efforts to reconcile Iraqi sects and reinforces their unwillingness to engage with the Sunnis on a variety of issues," the estimate said.
Many Sunnis "remain unwilling to accept their minority status," the NIE continued, "believe the central government is illegitimate and incompetent, and are convinced that Shia dominance will increase Iranian influence over Iraq."
The Kurds, the country's third major group, "are moving systematically to increase their control" over the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and are looking to a constitutionally required referendum to take place no later than the end of this year, the NIE said. The voting will deal with the incorporation of the city within the Kurds' regional border. Such a move, the estimate said, "could prompt Turkey to launch a military incursion."
From the New York Times :
The assessment, by American intelligence agencies, expressed deep doubts about the abilities of Iraqi politicians to hold together an increasingly balkanized country, and about whether Iraqi troops might be able to confront powerful militias over the next 18 months and assume more responsibility for security.
The estimate suggested that the United States now faced an unpalatable decision in which a rapid withdrawal of American troops would only accelerate momentum toward Iraq’s collapse, and in which Iraq faced long odds of quelling the violence and overcoming hardening sectarian divisions, regardless of how many American troops police Iraq’s streets.
The intelligence report (concluded) that Iran is providing “lethal support” for Shiite groups that is intensifying the violence. But it portrayed the violence as essentially “self-sustaining,” and suggested that the involvement of outsiders, including Iran, was “not likely to be a major driver of violence or the prospects for stability.”
The declassified portions included an assessment that an Iraqi military hampered by sectarian divisions would be “hard pressed” over the next 12 to 18 months to “execute significantly increased security responsibilities, and particularly to operate independently against Shia militias with any success.”
The report also concluded that security in Iraq would continue to deteriorate at current rates unless “measurable progress” can be made in efforts to reverse the conditions that fuel violence.
The previous National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, in the summer of 2004, detailed three possible outlooks for Iraq over the following 18 months, with the most pessimistic possibility that Iraq would descend into civil war.
By contrast the new report, struggling to describe the nature of the ongoing violence, said that calling it a “civil war” was hardly sufficient.The report also warned that a further sectarian splintering of Iraq could incite other countries in the Middle East to arm and finance various sects in the country: Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt supporting the Sunnis, and Iran coming to the aid of Shiite forces.
Beyond the current grim picture, the report described several “triggering events” that could cause the situation to worsen significantly. Among them, it listed the assassination of major religious or political leaders, a complete Sunni defection from the government, and sustained mass sectarian killings that could “shift Iraq’s trajectory from gradual decline to rapid deterioration with grave humanitarian, political and security consequences.”
Were the already fragile government to collapse, the report outlined three possible outcomes: the emergence of a Shiite strongman to assert authority over minority sects, an “anarchic” fragmentation that puts power in the hands of hundreds of local potentates, or a period of sustained, bloody fighting leading to partition of Iraq along ethnic lines.“Collapse of this magnitude would generate fierce violence for at least several years,” the report concluded, “ranging well beyond the time frame of this estimate, before settling into a partially stable end-state.
From the Washington Post :
In crafting key judgments of the 2007 estimate, analysts from across the intelligence community laid out three possible scenarios, each of which could have enormously negative consequences for Iraq: Chaos leading to partition, the emergence of a Shiite strongman who would seize power and rule by dictatorship, or a complete collapse of central control resulting in violent fiefdoms across the country.
The official said the new estimate "highlighted a trend of deterioration that is not irreversible. But if it's not reversed soon, then we're heading toward a worsening security situation over the next 12 to 18 months. It's more of a main judgment than we were able to give in 2004, if significantly caveated."
The senior intelligence official who agreed to discuss some aspects of both reports said that while the 2004 estimate now seems prescient, analysts failed to predict "the rapid degree of intensification of sectarian mobilization and consciousness, and the speed in which that happened. I don't think we were that insightful."