|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
A stark assessment released Thursday by the nation’s intelligence agencies depicts a paralyzed Iraqi government unable to take advantage of the security gains achieved by the thousands of extra American troops dispatched to the country this year.
The assessment, known as a National Intelligence Estimate, casts strong doubts on the viability of the Bush administration strategy in Iraq. It gives a dim prognosis on the likelihood that Iraqi politicians can heal deep sectarian rifts before next spring, when American military commanders have said that a crunch on available troops will require reducing the United States’ presence in Iraq.
But the report also implicitly criticizes proposals offered by Democrats, including several presidential candidates, who have called for a withdrawal of American combat troops from Iraq by next year and for a major shift in the American approach, from manpower-intensive counterinsurgency operations to lower-profile efforts aimed at supporting Iraqi troops and carrying out quick-strike counterterrorism raids.
Such a shift, the report says, would “erode security gains achieved thus far” and could return Iraq to a downward spiral of sectarian violence.
After a summer of rancorous debate over the future of America’s mission in Iraq, the intelligence report is the most prominent and authoritative assessment to date of what the administration calls a surge strategy.
The report, which represents the consensus view of America’s 16 intelligence agencies, suggests that policy makers face a dilemma. While the current strategy in Iraq has produced “measurable but uneven improvements” in security, it says, the approach has done little to bridge sectarian divides in Iraq. The report also says that pulling American troops out of Iraq would most likely make things far worse.
The report says that the influx of American troops in Iraq has achieved some successes in lowering sectarian violence, but concludes that Iraqi leaders “remain unable to govern effectively” and that the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki “will become more precarious over the next 6 to 12 months” as rival factions led by Mr. Maliki’s fellow Shiites vie for power.
The assessment concludes that there is little reason to expect that Iraqi politicians will achieve significant gains before spring, when American commanders say they will have to begin to cut troop levels in Iraq, now at more than 160,000, to ease the burden on military personnel.
The report is optimistic about a number of what it calls “bottom up” security initiatives that have helped reduce violence in some parts of the country. Most prominent of these are efforts by Sunni tribal sheiks to band together against Islamic militants from Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the homegrown Sunni Arab insurgent group that American intelligence agencies have concluded is foreign-led.
But such local initiatives are also described in the report as a Catch-22. On one hand, they provide the “best prospect” for improving Iraqi security over the next year. But the assessment says that strong local initiatives could undermine Iraq’s central government, which American officials say is essential to lasting peace.
The intelligence assessment also cites a growing perception inside Iraq that an American troop withdrawal would inevitably be another factor that could destabilize the Maliki government, encouraging factions anticipating a power vacuum “to seek local security solutions that could intensify sectarian violence.”