Reports: Iraq Outlook Grim

Both Belmont Club’s Wretchard and Counterterrorism Blog’s Andrew Cochran point to the National Intelligence Council’s “2020 Project” report. Wretchard reproduces the summary table, which lists a large number of Relative Certainties and Key Uncertainties (or, as Don Rumsfeld might term them, “known knowns” and “known unknowns”).

The report has brought more CIA leakers, violating their sworn oath not to release classified information to unauthorized personnel, out of the woodwork:

Intelligence Reports Say Outlook Is Grim In Iraq (Warren P. Strobel, Jonathan S. Landay, and John Walcott, Miami Herald, p. 1)

New U.S. intelligence assessments on Iraq paint a grim picture of the road ahead and conclude that there is little likelihood that President Bush’s goals can be attained in the near future. Instead of stabilizing the country, national elections Jan. 30 are likely to be followed by more violence and could provoke a civil war between majority Shiite Muslims and minority Sunni Muslims, the CIA and other intelligence agencies predict, according to senior officials who’ve seen the classified reports. A CIA spokesman, Tom Crispell, said he was unable to comment. A White House spokeswoman had no immediate comment.


A new public report by the National Intelligence Council concludes that instead of diminishing terrorism, U.S.-occupied Iraq has replaced prewar Afghanistan as a breeding and training ground for terrorists who may disperse to conduct attacks elsewhere. Two senior intelligence officials with access to classified reporting said Islamic militants allied with or inspired by Osama bin Laden were forging ties to Iraqi nationalists and remnants of former dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime. The linkage is similar to the one that so-called ”Afghan Arabs” formed with Afghanistan’s Taliban regime after the Soviet Union withdrew from that country, they said.

The Bush administration claimed before invading Iraq that Hussein had strong ties to international terrorism, but most counterterrorism experts dispute that and no evidence has been found to support the claim. ”The sad thing is we have created what the administration claimed we were intervening to prevent: an Iraq-al Qaeda linkage,” one of the senior intelligence officials said. The officials who were more pessimistic spoke on condition of anonymity, because the latest intelligence assessments are classified and their views are at odds with public statements from the White House.

Certainly discouraging. The account’s language is misleading, as there is no doubt that “Hussein had strong ties to international terrorism;” the al Qaeda linkage is much more tangential. Cochran points to numerous articles, mostly by Stephen Hayes, and flatly concludes, “I don’t understand why anybody thinks there is an objective debate anymore: Saddam Hussein had numerous contact, ties, and links to numerous terrorist groups, including al Qaeda.” (See also Cochran‘s related piece this morning on the Arab reporters on Saddam’s payroll.)

Regardless, the critics are certainly right on one thing: the evidence of the insurgency’s resilience continues to mount. It appears that policy-makers are acknowledging this, too:

U.S. Will Shift From Fighting to Training (LAT)

U.S. military commanders increasingly believe that American troops will never entirely defeat Iraqi insurgents and now plan to reduce offensive operations and focus on training Iraqi security forces. Under the plan, expected to be launched after the nation’s Jan. 30 parliamentary election, up to half of the U.S. troops in Iraq eventually could be enlisted to train police officers, national guard troops and other forces, said a senior military official in Baghdad, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In recent interviews, officials in Baghdad and at the Pentagon have acknowledged that the insurgency remains potent and resilient despite sustained U.S. assaults. Although U.S. commanders have long said that training Iraqi forces is an important aspect of securing the country, the planned shift in focus reflects a new, sober assessment by top military and Bush administration officials. Offensive operations “are not the long-term solution. The long-term solution is with the Iraqis,” a senior administration official said. “Training Iraqis is the whole nine yards right now. If they don’t get better, we can’t get out of there.”

After the U.S. cleared fighters from the insurgent stronghold of Fallouja in November, American officials were optimistic that the offensive in the Sunni Muslim city had irreparably damaged the guerrilla organizations that targeted both U.S. and Iraqi troops. Marine Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler said at the time that the intense Fallouja campaign had “broken the back” of the insurgency. Yet the violence in the weeks since then has proved that Iraqi insurgents remain capable of a sustained, organized and lethal campaign. “There were some people who absolutely wanted to believe” that the Fallouja offensive had defeated the insurgency, said Kalev Sepp of the Naval Postgraduate School, who during the November offensive was a counterinsurgency advisor to Army Gen. George W. Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. “But there was no evidence that had occurred.”

I still hold out hope that an elected Iraqi government will be able to put more pressure on the guerillas than is possible under present circumstances, especially in terms of undercutting public support for their cause.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. LJD says:

    The left is having a field day trying to somehow assess the blame, in it’s entirety, on the evil U.S. Iraq’s state of affairs runs much deeper than the last decade of history.

    If the Iraqis cannot find a way to secure their state, who can possibly do it for them? (Other than going back to the effective, however brutal tactics of Saddam).

    At some point, the Iraqis will have to conclude that if they’re tired of war and violence, they will have to stop killing each other. (How profound!) The same goes for booting international terrorists out of their country.