Just days after President Bush made a major address arguing that al Qaeda has become the biggest threat facing U.S. goals in Iraq, it has come to light that US intelligence communities warned of the likelihood of that outcome prior to the invasion.
In the majority view of the "Phase Two" report on pre-war intelligence by the Senate intel committee, Democratic senators Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Evan Bayh of Indiana and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island write:
"The most chilling and prescient warning from the intelligence community prior to the war was that the American invasion would bring about instability in Iraq that would be exploited by Iran and al-Qaida.... America's prolonged presence in Iraq, the Intelligence Community correctly assessed, has allowed al-Qaida and other terrorist groups to take advantage of the security vacuum in-country and to increase their attacks against Americans with deadly results."
The issuance of "Phase Two" of the Senate Select Committee on intelligence's inquiry into pre-war intelligence has been highly anticipated since the first report's release prior to mid-term elections in 2004.
The minority view of Republican senators Kit Bond (MO), John Warner (VA), Orrin Hatch (UT), and Richard Burr (NC) did not comment on the substance of the report as much as they defended the release of Phase 1 and argued that Phase 2 had "become too embroiled in politics and partisanship to produce an accurate and meaningful report."
The investigation reviewed many assessments but primarily focused on two January 2003 papers from the National Intelligence Council: "Regional Consequences of Regime Change in Iraq" and "Principal Challenges in Post-Saddam Iraq," which were both widely circulated to top officials.
Major conclusions cited by the Associated Press:
* Establishing a stable democracy in Iraq would be a long, steep and probably turbulent challenge. They said that contributions could be made from 4 million Iraqi exiles and Iraq's impoverished, underemployed middle class. But they noted that opposition parties would need sustained economic, political and military support.
* Al-Qaida would see the invasion as a chance to accelerate its attacks, and the lines between al-Qaida and other terrorist groups "could become blurred." In a weak spot in the analysis, one paper said that the risk of terror attacks would spike after the invasion and slow over the next three to five years. However, the State Department recently found that attacks last year alone rose sharply.
* Domestic groups in Iraq's deeply divided society would become violent, unless stopped by the occupying force. "Score settling would occur throughout Iraq between those associated with Saddam's regime and those who have suffered most under it."
* Iraq's neighbors would jockey for influence and Iranian leaders would try to shape the post-Saddam era to demonstrate Tehran's importance in the region. The more Tehran didn't feel threatened by U.S. actions, the analysts said, "the better the chance that they could cooperate in the postwar period."
* Military action to eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction would not cause other governments in the region to give up such programs.
ABC's Jonathan Karl printed some key excerpts read to him by US intelligence officials:
* Iraq is unlikely to break apart, but it is "a deeply divided society." There is "a significant chance" that groups would "engage in violent conflict ... unless there is an occupying force to prevent them from doing so."
* Neighboring states could "jockey for position ... fomenting ethnic strife inside Iraq."
* "Iraq's political culture does not foster political liberalism or democracy."
* "A generation of Iraqis" who have been subjected to Saddam's repression are "distrustful of surrendering or sharing power."
* Al Qaeda could operate from the countryside unless there is a strong central power in Baghdad.
* There would be "a heightened terrorist threat" that "after an initial spike would decline after three to five years."
Publication of the 229-page document was approved by a committee vote of 10-5, with two Republicans, Sens. Olympia Snowe of Maine and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, voting with the Democrats.
Read the released Phase 2 report on SSCI's homepage.