A new US intelligence report cites civil war for the first time as key element of Iraq conflict

A declassified section of the 90-page report submitted to President George W. Bush and Congress describes the Iraq situation as “perilous” with US troops having very little control over it. Iranian activities lead to increased violence while not a major cause of it. Even al Qaeda is not called a major factor. The war is described as driven primarily by Iraqi versus Iraqi, Sunni versus Shiite - and therefore a civil war.

Unless efforts to reverse these conditions show measurable progress during the next 12 to 18 months, “we assess that the overall security of the situation will continue to deteriorate.”

The report, part of which is due to be released later Friday, Feb. 2, says “US forces levels, resources and operations remain an essential element in Iraq” and a quick US withdrawal would have dangerous consequences, such as an increase in violence, a split in the Iraqi army on sectarian lines and the fall of the al Anbar province to al Qaeda.

Outgoing director of national intelligence John Negroponte briefed Bush on the report Thursday. An administration official said the underlying intelligence was used by Bush in developing his new Iraq strategy.

Strong criticism of the conduct of the war was voiced by Republican Senator John McCain Thursday at the confirmation hearing for General George Casey as designated head of the US army. “I question seriously the judgment that was employed in the execution of your responsibilities in Iraq,” said the senator. “And we have paid a very, very heavy price in American blood and treasure for what is now agreed to by literally everyone as a failed policy.”

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