The Bush administration, struggling to bolster its case for an escalation of U.S. military force in Iraq in the face of congressional criticism, released excerpts of a new intelligence report Friday painting a dire picture of violence in Iraq that the term "civil war" cannot "adequately capture."
[..]Its release also comes as Bush prepares to propose a new federal budget Monday, with the White House seeking an additional $100 billion for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this year and $150 billion in 2008 - pushing the predicted costs of an increasingly controversial conflicts well past $500 billion.
"It is this intelligence and the picture it paints that caused the president to conclude and then develop a new strategy or new approach to Iraq," Stephen Hadley, national security adviser, said Friday. "It makes it clear once again, as the president has been saying, that the consequences of failure are grave indeed."
But critics of the president's war strategy are taking this newest judgment of the administration's 16 intelligence agencies as new cause to question Bush's deployment of 17,500 additional troops in Baghdad in an attempt to quell sectarian violence there and another 4,000 Marines in the Anbar province.
[..]The intelligence report portrays a chaotic situation, nearly four years after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. "The new NIE presents a far grimmer and more realistic picture of Iraq than President Bush did in announcing his new strategy," said Anthony Cordesman, a senior analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The NIE concludes:
* Unless efforts to reverse conditions in Iraq show "measurable progress" in coming months, the situation will continue to "deteriorate."
* Even "if violence is diminished," Iraqi leaders will be "hard-pressed" to achieve sustained political reconciliation over the next 12 to 18 months. But "stronger Iraqi leadership" could help the situation.
* U.S. forces remain an "essential stabilizing element" in Iraq. Yet, despite "real improvements," Iraq Security Forces will be hard-pressed to operate independently.
* If the U.S. withdrew, Iraqi forces could not withstand the ensuing violence, which would probably lead to "massive civilian casualties and forced population displacement."
* While Iraq's neighbors are interfering, "outside actors" are not a "major driver of violence" inside Iraq.
Nevertheless, Iranian "lethal support" clearly "intensifies the conflict." And al-Qaida in Iraq continues to act as a very effective "accelerator" of sectarian violence, which also has become "self-sustaining."
By Nicole Belle — February 3, 2007