Iraqi leaders will be hard pressed to craft a lasting political settlement or improve their security capabilities in the next year and a half, the U.S. intelligence community concluded in a report that raises new uncertainty about the prospect for withdrawing American troops.
Months in the making, the collaborative assessment by 16 spy agencies says that growing and entrenched polarization between Shia and Sunni Muslims, inadequate Iraqi security forces, weak leaders, and the success of extremists' efforts to use violence to exacerbate the sectarian war all create a situation that will be difficult to improve.
The report, which is called a National Intelligence Estimate, or NIE, says the problem is not just a civil war. Rather, Iraq is spiraling toward implosion, reports CBS News national security correspondent David Martin.
"The NIE does a very nice job of making clear the trajectory that Iraq is on," says former CIA analyst Kenneth Pollard. "And that trajectory is straight down."
"We think it is accurate," Stephen Hadley, Bush's national security adviser, said in a briefing on the document, called a National Intelligence Estimate. "We would emphasize the 'hard-pressed,' because we will be pressing them hard and the Iraqi people will be pressing the government hard."
Rep. Ike Skelton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said it "demonstrates that the situation in Iraq is indeed dire and deteriorating. It saddens me that the pessimistic impressions I gained during my recent trip to Iraq are reinforced by the conclusions of the latest NIE."
The report said that "even if violence is diminished, given the current winner-take-all attitude and sectarian animosities infecting the political scene, Iraqi leaders will be hard-pressed to achieve sustained political reconciliation" any time soon.
It used much the same language about the prospects for Iraqi security forces, saying that despite recent improvements, they too "will be hard-pressed in the next 12-18 months to execute significantly increased security responsibilities" and take on Shiite militias.
In other developments: A U.S. helicopter went down Friday in Iraq for the fourth time in two weeks, killing two soldiers on board, and America's top general acknowledged that its aircraft were increasingly in danger from ground fire. Witnesses and local police said two helicopters were flying together when gunmen opened fire, sending one of the aircraft crashing to the ground near Taji, an air base just north of Baghdad. Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Friday that clearly, "ground fire ... has been more effective against our helicopters in the last couple weeks." The comments marked the first time a military official has publicly acknowledged the recent crashes were caused by ground fire. The Bush administration will ask for another $100 billion for military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan this year and seek $145 billion for 2008, a senior administration official said Friday. The requests Monday, to accompany President Bush's budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, would bring the total appropriations for 2007 to about $170 billion, with a slight decline the following year. U.S. forces said 18 insurgents were killed in fighting Thursday night and Friday after insurgents opened fire on the Americans from several positions in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, the military said. No civilian or U.S. casualties were reported, the military said. The outgoing top U.S. general in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, diplomatically aired his differences with the commander in chief on Thursday, telling lawmakers that President Bush has ordered thousands more troops into Iraq than needed to tamp down violence in Baghdad. Two suicide bombers blew themselves up Thursday in a crowded outdoor market in a Shiite city south of Baghdad, killing 45 people and wounding 150, police said. The attackers strolled into the Maktabat outdoor market in the center of Hillah about 6 p.m. as shoppers were buying food for their evening meals. Police said they thought one of the men appeared suspicious and stopped him. The bomber then detonated his explosives and the second attacker, who was walking behind him, set off his, police added.
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