The National Intelligence Estimate, released twice a year, is a consensus view of the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and other U.S. intelligence services.
It comes just weeks before General David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker offer their own assessment of U.S. strategy in a report due on September 15.
The latest National Intelligence Estimate concludes that the overall level of violence in Iraq remains high.
It says “measurable,” if “uneven,” security improvements have been made over the past six months. The intelligence report says more improvements can be expected in the months ahead if U.S. troops, backed by Iraqi forces, continue their “robust” push against the insurgents.
But the report warns that Iraqi forces have “not improved enough to conduct major operations” without U.S. help. That is why the report concludes that downgrading the role of U.S. forces could “erode security gains achieved thus far.”
'Unable To Govern'
On the political front, the National Intelligence Estimate is more pessimistic. It concludes that the country’s leaders “remain unable to govern effectively.”
It adds that developments continue to be driven by the Shi’ite majority’s desire to retain its political dominance. At the same time, it notes the “widespread Sunni unwillingness to accept a diminished political status,” as well as widespread factional rivalries within both communities.
The report says the polarization of the communities is most evident in the capital Baghdad, where the Shi’a are a clear majority in more than half of all neighborhoods and Sunnis areas have become surrounded by the majority Shi’ite districts.
The report says the Iraqi government is likely to become even more precarious over the next six to 12 months due to factionalism, leading to more political in-fighting.
The National Intelligence Estimate provides ammunition for both political parties in the United States, as Democrats and Republicans in Congress prepare for intense debate on Iraq, starting next month.
Congress plays a key role in approving funding for operations in Iraq.
U.S. legislators have been spending their summer recess in their home constituencies, hearing from local voters -- many of whom want to see American troops come home.
That will weigh heavily on the debate. Influential Republican Senator John Warner, who just returned from a trip to Iraq, on August 23 urged President George W. Bush to start a limited withdrawal of U.S. forces.
He argued that the move would send a signal to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that the U.S. commitment to Iraq is not open-ended.
Warner said that given the negative outlook of the National Intelligence Estimate, the United States "simply cannot as a nation stand and put our troops at continuous risk of loss of life and limb without beginning to take some decisive action which will get everybody's attention."
"I say to the president, respectfully, pick whatever number [for a troop withdrawal] you wish," he said. Warner suggested that withdrawing 5,000 troops by the end of the year would be a significant first step, without causing the counterinsurgency to lose momentum.
Many Democrats have made even stronger demands, calling for most or all combat troops to be pulled out of Iraq within months.
So far, President Bush has refused calls for troop withdrawals, saying conditions on the ground, and the advice of military commanders, should dictate any such decisions.
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