Friday, February 2, 2007

A new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq warns that pulling U.S. troops out of the country too soon would lead to a collapse of the Iraqi military, outside intervention and the creation of safe havens for al Qaeda terrorists.

An unclassified summary of the 90-page estimate, “Prospects for Iraq’s Stability: A Challenging Road Ahead,” stated that U.S. and allied troops “remain an essential stabilizing element in Iraq.”

“If coalition forces were withdrawn rapidly, … we judge that this almost certainly would lead to a significant increase in the scale and scope of sectarian conflict in Iraq, intensify Sunni resistance to the Iraqi government and have adverse consequences for national reconciliation,” the report stated.

The conclusion is a blow to Iraq war critics in Congress and elsewhere who are advocating a pullout of U.S. troops.

“If such a rapid withdrawal were to take place, we judge that the [Iraqi Security Force] would be unlikely to survive as a non-sectarian national institution; neighboring countries … might intervene openly in the conflict; massive civilian casualties and forced population displacement would be probable,” the report stated.

Also, the al Qaeda terrorist group in Iraq would try to “use parts of the country — particularly al-Anbar province — to plan increased attacks in and outside of Iraq.”

Additionally, Turkey could launch a military incursion if there were no U.S. or allied troops to block Kurdish attempts to control northern Iraq, according to the report.

White House National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley said President Bush agreed with the report’s conclusion about the danger of removing troops too rapidly.

“That’s why the president concluded that while the current strategy was not working and it was a prescription for slow failure, an American withdrawal or stepping back now would be a prescription for fast failure and a chaos that would envelop not only Iraq but also the region and could potentially, by giving al Qaeda a safe haven in Iraq, result in risk and threats to the United States,” Mr. Hadley said.

The estimate, a consensus of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies that was ordered by members of Congress, presents a pessimistic view of the prospects for stabilizing Iraq and halting the growing violence over the next 12 to 18 months.

Unless the trends are reversed in that time, “we assess that the overall security situation will continue to deteriorate at rates comparable to the latter part of 2006,” the report stated.

However, it stated, the Iraqi military and police will be “hard-pressed” over the next 18 months to take on greater security roles or operate alone against Shi’ite militias.

A strengthened Iraqi military backed by U.S. and allied forces would give Iraqi leaders a chance to foster “political compromise” needed for long-term stability, political progress and economic renewal, the report stated.

The current violence is more than a religious and ethnic civil war, the report stated, citing extensive Shi’ite-on-Shi’ite violence, al Qaeda and Sunni insurgent attacks on coalition forces and criminal attacks.

Developments that could reverse the negative trends include broader Sunni acceptance of the political structure, concessions by Shi’ites and Kurds toward Sunnis, and a local community-outreach effort to mend differences between groups and tribes, according to the report.

“A key enabler for all of these steps would be stronger Iraqi leadership, which could enhance the positive impact of all the above developments,” the report stated.

On outside influence, the report stated that Iranian support for insurgents intensifies the conflict, and that Syria is providing safe haven for insurgents and has failed to stop the flow of terrorists into Iraq.

Rep. Ike Skelton, Missouri Democrat and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the report “demonstrates that the situation in Iraq is indeed dire and deteriorating,” the Associated Press reported.

“It saddens me that the pessimistic impressions I gained during my recent trip to Iraq are reinforced by the conclusions of the latest NIE,” Mr. Skelton said.

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