Release of analysis on US terror threat rekindles political fight over Iraq

Government's top analysts concluded Iraq has become a "cause celebre" for jihadists, who are growing in number and geographic reach.

September 27, 2006 18:03
4 minute read.
iraq bomb 298.88

iraq bomb 298.88. (photo credit: Associated Press [file])


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The war in Iraq is breeding deep resentment of the United States that is likely to get worse before it gets better, federal intelligence analysts conclude in a report at odds with President George W. Bush's talk of a world growing safer. The bleak National Intelligence Estimate report was declassified and released Tuesday on Bush's orders after weekend leaks caused an uproar over its findings that seemed out of step with the Bush administration's reassurances. With congressional elections approaching in November, the report provides Democrats and Republicans with new ammunition as they battle over which party is the best steward of national security. For Republicans, the excerpts of the document are more evidence that Iraq is central to the war on terrorism and cannot be abandoned without giving jihadists a crucial victory. For Democrats, the report furthers their argument that the 2003 Iraq invasion has inflamed anti-US sentiments in the Muslim world and left the US less safe. In the report, which was completed in April, the government's top analysts concluded Iraq has become a "cause celebre" for jihadists, who are growing in number and geographic reach. If the trend continues, the analysts found, the risks to the US interests at home and abroad will grow. "We also assess that the global jihadist movement - which includes al-Qaida, affiliated and independent terrorist groups, and emerging networks and cells - is spreading and adapting to counterterrorism efforts," concluded the estimate, compiled by leading analysts across 16 US spy agencies. A separate high-level assessment focused solely on Iraq may be coming soon. At least two House Democrats - Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Rep. Jane Harman of California - have questioned whether that report has been stamped "draft" and shelved until after the Nov. 7 elections. An intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the process, said National Intelligence Director John Negroponte told lawmakers in writing only one month ago that he ordered a new Iraq estimate to be assembled. The estimate on terrorism released Tuesday took about a year to produce. At a news conference Tuesday, Bush said critics who believe the Iraq war has worsened terrorism are naive and mistaken, noting that al-Qaida and other groups have found inspiration to attack for more than a decade. "My judgment is, if we weren't in Iraq, they'd find some other excuse, because they have ambitions," Bush said. But Sen. Joe Biden, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said Wednesday that Bush has allowed Iraq to fester as a training ground for terrorists, and US voters are worried about it. "On Election Day, that morning, if there's still the carnage in the streets of Iraq, then it will be clear that they have concluded that this administration's policy has failed and there will be a political price for it," Biden predicted on CBS' "The Early Show." Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the intelligence committee's top Democrat, said the decision to invade Iraq shifted focus away from US counterterrorism efforts. "There is no question that many of our policies have inflamed our enemies' hatred toward the US and allowed violence to flourish," he said. "But it is the mistakes we made in Iraq - the lack of planning, the mismanagement and the complete incompetence of our leadership - that has done the most damage to our security." In the declassified excerpts on terrorism, the intelligence community found:

  • The increased role of Iraqis in managing the operations of al-Qaida in Iraq might lead the terror group's veteran foreign fighters to refocus their efforts outside that country.
  • While Iran and Syria are the most active state sponsors of terror, many other countries will be unable to prevent their resources from being exploited by terrorists.
  • The underlying factors fueling the spread of the extremist Muslim movement outweigh its vulnerabilities. These factors are entrenched grievances and a slow pace of reform in home countries, rising anti-US sentiment and the Iraq war.
  • Groups "of all stripes" will increasingly use the Internet to communicate, train, recruit and obtain support. The report's few positive notes were couched in conditional terms, depending on successful completion of difficult tasks ahead for the US and its allies. In one example, analysts concluded that more responsive political systems in Muslim nations could erode support for jihadist extremists. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, a US ally in Washington for a Wednesday meeting with Bush, found himself drawn into the political dispute. He was asked in a CNN interview about an assertion in his new book that he opposed the invasion of Iraq because he feared that it would only encourage extremists. "It has made the world a more dangerous place," he said. White House homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend took issue with one of the report's most damning conclusions, that the number of jihadists has increased. "I don't think there's any question that there's an increase in rhetoric," she said. But "I think it's difficult to count the number of true jihadists that are willing to commit murder or kill themselves." National intelligence estimates are compilations of the best thinking of US intelligence agencies, meant to provide the broadest guidance to government policymakers.

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