Report: Sectarian Violence Greatest Threat in Iraq The National Intelligence Estimate for Iraq describes an increasingly grim situation, in which the United States has little control. It says that sectarian violence is outstripping al-Qaida as a threat.

Report: Sectarian Violence Greatest Threat in Iraq

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

We have word today, on what U.S. intelligence agencies think of the situation in Iraq. Their findings are contained in a document that's been anticipated for months. It describes an increasingly dangerous situation where the U.S. has little control. And it says that sectarian violence is outstripping al-Qaida as a threat.

NPR's Mary Louise Kelly reports on intelligence issues, and joins us now in our studio to talk about the new report. Good morning.

MARY LOUISE KELLY: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And Mary Louise, I gather the report paints a grim picture?

KELLY: It does. The title pretty much sets the tone, and the title is "Prospects for Iraq Stability: A Challenging Road Ahead." So the estimate judges that the situation in Iraq is perilous. That it may well continue to get worse. That sectarian violence, as you mentioned, Iraqi on Iraqi, is the biggest problem right now.

And it also talks a little bit about the role that Iran is playing. It says that Iran is making the situation worse. What we don't know is quite how much detail the estimate provides on the role that Iran is playing. What's been released publicly today is just over three pages. It's the conclusion section. We don't have access to the full-classified document, which runs dozens of pages and presumably gives a lot more detail on some of these things.

MONTAGNE: Yeah. Now, there's been a fair amount of debate of whether Iraq is or is not in a civil war. Does this intelligence estimate weigh in on that?

KELLY: It does. It's - it uses the term civil war and it says civil war is an accurate description of key elements of the conflict - if you're talking about people who have been displaced, if you're talking the ethnic and sectarian violence that we mentioned.

But overall, it judges that the term civil war actually doesn't go far enough, that it doesn't capture the complexity of what's going on in Iraq. Because you also have, for example, Shia on Shia violence; you have al-Qaida attacks, of course, ongoing against U.S. forces; and you have a lot of violence that is just common criminals who are taking advantage of the poor security situation there.

MONTAGNE: When it gets right down to it, and when it comes to policy-makers, does this report mean much?

KELLY: I think this will certainly come into play in the debate unfolding on the Hill over the Iraq resolutions. I mean, the Democrats are going to try to portray this as evidence that the Bush administration policy in Iraq has failed. The White House, of course, does not see things that way, and they have already been out this morning arguing the contrary that this new assessment is compelling evidence that President Bush was right to change strategy and to order more that 21,000 new troops into Iraq.

One other interesting dynamic in all of this is what precedent this may set. Releasing even a portion of an NIE, which is a very highly classified document, is unusual. It's getting more common. This is the third time this administration has done it and we know, for example, there are two more estimates in the pipeline on Iran that are supposed to be out this spring. It's hard to imagine that with all the interest in Iran and the situation there right now, that there isn't going to be pressure to continue releasing these estimates sections of this document.

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