Negroponte: Iraq could spark regional war

Amazing! Finally the light bulb goes on! Why, this man should be director of national intelligence! Oops, he already is! Of course we were warning before Bush went into Iraq that destabilization of the country could spark regional or even world war. But, hey, nobody ever listens to us! From AP, Feb. 28:

Spy Chief: Iraq May Spark Regional Battle
WASHINGTON — A civil war in Iraq could lead to a broader conflict in the Middle East, pitting the region’s rival Islamic sects against each other, National Intelligence Director John Negroponte said in an unusually frank assessment Tuesday.

“If chaos were to descend upon Iraq or the forces of democracy were to be defeated in that country … this would have implications for the rest of the Middle East region and, indeed, the world,” Negroponte said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on global threats.

Negroponte served as U.S. ambassador to Baghdad before taking over as the nation’s top intelligence official last April.

Iraqis have faced a chain of attacks and reprisals since bombs destroyed the gold dome of a revered Shiite shrine in Samarra last week. Hundreds, if not thousands, have died, including more than 65 who were killed Tuesday by suicide attackers, car bombers and insurgents firing mortars.

President Bush condemned the surge in violence and said Iraqis must make a choice between “a free society or a society dictated … by evil people who will kill innocents.” Later, in an interview with ABC News’ “World News Tonight,” he said he did not believe the escalation of civil unrest would lead to a general civil war.

Negroponte tried to focus on progress in Iraq, but he acknowledged a civil war would be a “serious setback” to the global war on terror.

“The consequences for the people of Iraq would be catastrophic,” he said. “Clearly, it would seriously jeopardize the democratic political process on which they are presently embarked. And one can only begin to imagine what the political outcomes would be.”

Saudi Arabia and Jordan could support Iraq’s Sunnis, Negroponte said. And Iran, run by a Shiite Islamic theocracy, “has already got quite close ties with some of the extremist elements” inside Iraq, he added.

While Iraq’s neighbors “initially might be reluctant” to get involved in a broader Sunni-Shiite conflict, “that might well be a temptation,” Negroponte said.

Still, he told senators he is seeing progress in the overall political and security situation in Iraq. “And if we continue to make that kind of progress, yes, we can win in Iraq,” he said.

Democrats noted that Negroponte wouldn’t go quite as far as Bush did in his January State of the Union address. “We are winning,” Bush said then.

James Jeffrey, the State Department coordinator for Iraq, told reporters Tuesday that Iraqi security forces have managed to establish a normal and calm situation _ “by Iraq standards.” The level of violence, he said, was about the same as before the shrine bombing.

At the Senate hearing, Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, painted a similarly stark picture of Afghanistan.

While the government has made progress in disarming private militias, Maples said, his agency estimates that violence from the Taliban and other anti-coalition groups in Afghanistan increased 20 percent last year.

Some people, however, are still in denial. From Reuters, March 1:

Bush denies Iraq civil war threat

US President George W. Bush, hit by polls showing support for the Iraq war at an all-time low, has denied Iraq was sliding into civil war, despite the worst sectarian strife since a US-led invasion.

His comments came as US National Intelligence Director John Negroponte told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that a civil war in Iraq could lead to a broader conflict in the Middle East, pitting the region’s rival Islamic sects against each another.

AP reports that he was giving an unusually frank assessment of the stakes in the country’s recent surge in violence.

“If chaos were to descend upon Iraq or the forces of democracy were to be defeated in that country … this would have implications for the rest of the Middle East region and, indeed, the world,” Mr Negroponte, who was previously US ambassador to Baghdad, was quoted as saying by AP.

The decline in Mr Bush’s public approval ratings came as he told Iraqis they faced a choice between “chaos or unity” amid violence that has dented US hopes for the stability needed to pave the way for a US troop withdrawal.

At least 60 people were killed in Baghdad yesterday in the latest in a series of deadly attacks after the bombing of a main Shiite mosque last week.

Asked what Washington would do if civil war broke out in Iraq, Mr Bush told ABC News: “I don’t buy your premise that there’s going to be a civil war.”

He said he had spoken to leaders of all Iraqi sects and “I heard loud and clear that they understand that they’re going to choose unification, and we’re going to help them do so”.

To which we say: Yeah. Right.

See our last post on Iraq

  1. The Cassandra syndrome
    Don’t these guys even bother to read their own intelligence reports? From Knight Ridder, Feb. 28:

    Intelligence agencies warned about growing local insurgency in late 2003

    WASHINGTON – U.S. intelligence agencies repeatedly warned the White House beginning more than two years ago that the insurgency in Iraq had deep local roots, was likely to worsen and could lead to civil war, according to former senior intelligence officials who helped craft the reports.

    Among the warnings, Knight Ridder has learned, was a major study, called a National Intelligence Estimate, completed in October 2003 that concluded that the insurgency was fueled by local conditions – not foreign terrorists- and drew strength from deep grievances, including the presence of U.S. troops.

    The existence of the top-secret document, which was the subject of a bitter three-month debate among U.S. intelligence agencies, has not been previously disclosed to a wide public audience.

    The reports received a cool reception from Bush administration policymakers at the White House and the office of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, according to the former officials, who discussed them publicly for the first time.

    President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld and others continued to describe the insurgency as a containable threat, posed mainly by former supporters of Saddam Hussein, criminals and non-Iraqi terrorists – even as the U.S. intelligence community was warning otherwise.

    Robert Hutchings, the chairman of the National Intelligence Council from 2003 to 2005, said the October 2003 study was part of a “steady stream” of dozens of intelligence reports warning Bush and his top lieutenants that the insurgency was intensifying and expanding.

    “Frankly, senior officials simply weren’t ready to pay attention to analysis that didn’t conform to their own optimistic scenarios,” Hutchings said in a telephone interview.

    The office of Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte declined Tuesday to comment for this article.

    The NIC is the intelligence community’s foremost group of senior analysts, and as its chairman, Hutchings presided over the drafting of the October 2003 report and other analyses of the insurgency.

    Wayne White, a veteran State Department intelligence analyst, wrote recently that when it became clear that the National Intelligence Estimate would forecast grim prospects for tamping down the insurgency, a senior official “exclaimed rhetorically, `How can I take this upstairs?’ (to then-CIA Director George Tenet)”

    White argued forcefully in inter-agency deliberations for a more pessimistic description of the insurgency, and his views eventually prevailed. White is now an adjunct scholar at the Washington-based Middle East Institute.