WASHINGTON—The Iraq war is fueling a growing threat of global terrorism and "shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders," according to a report from U.S. intelligence agencies that President Bush ordered declassified on Tuesday.
The grim analysis offers little reason for optimism over the next five years, the time frame covered by the assessment. It concludes that Islamic extremists are growing "in both number and geographic dispersion," that new radical threats are emerging and that terrorist attacks are likely to increase. It also says that Iraq has become a training ground for terrorists and a recruitment tool for extremists around the world.
"The Iraq conflict has become the `cause celebre' for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement," the report says.
For reasons that aren't clear, the declassified excerpts from the report make no mention of Afghanistan, where the war against al-Qaida began five years ago, but where the Taliban have rebounded in parts of the country and reconstruction efforts have flagged.
The assessment came in the form of a National Intelligence Estimate, an analysis that reflects the consensus of all 16 government intelligence services, including the CIA. Citing unnamed government officials, The New York Times and other media outlets characterized the report's conclusions on Sunday without quoting directly from the classified document.
Bush directed intelligence officials to release excerpts from the report to counter suggestions that the analysis means that the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq has fueled rather than curbed the terrorist threat and that the United States would be better off withdrawing from Iraq. The report does conclude that the Iraq war has helped spread terrorism, but it also supports Bush's view that a U.S. loss there would make things even worse.
"Perceived jihadist success there would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere," the report says. "Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight."
In response, Rep. Jane Harman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said: "Contrary to the president's assertions, our failed strategy in Iraq has exacerbated the threat against us. The president says that fighting them `there' makes it less likely we will have to fight them `here.' The opposite is true. Because we are fighting them there, it may become more likely that we'll have to fight them here."
The report also calls into question Bush's claim that America is safer five years after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Although intelligence officials agreed that U.S. efforts "have seriously damaged" al-Qaida's leadership, they said Osama bin Laden's terrorist network remains "the greatest threat to the homeland and U.S. interests abroad."
"We also assess that the global jihadist movement—which includes al-Qaida, affiliated and independent terrorist groups, and emerging networks and cells—is spreading and adapting to counter-terrorism efforts," the report says.
A Senate Intelligence Committee report released earlier this month found that, before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the regime of Saddam Hussein had no links with al-Qaida and had refused to cooperate with it.
"Postwar findings indicate that Saddam Hussein was distrustful of al-Qaida and viewed Islamic extremists as a threat to his regime, refusing all requests from al-Qaida to provide material or operational support," the Senate report said.
The newly unclassified intelligence analysis predicts that terrorist groups in Indonesia, North Africa and Iraq "unless countered, are likely to expand their reach and become more capable of multiple and/or mass-casualty attacks outside their traditional areas of operation."
New terror groups are also on the horizon.
"Anti-U.S. and anti-globalization sentiment is on the rise and fueling other radical ideologies. This could prompt some leftist, nationalist or separatist groups to adopt terrorist methods to attack U.S. interests," the report says. "The radicalization process is occurring more quickly, more widely and more anonymously in the Internet age, raising the likelihood of surprise attacks by unknown groups whose members and supporters may be difficult to pinpoint."
The report cites four factors behind the spread of terrorism: anti-Western sentiment fueled by "entrenched grievances," the war in Iraq, the slow pace of economic, political and social reform in the Muslim world, and "pervasive anti-U.S. sentiment among most Muslims."
The report also lists some factors that "could begin to slow the spread" of terrorism: the emergence of moderate Muslim voices, revulsion over terrorist attacks, and opposition to the "religious and political straitjacket" that terrorists want to impose on Muslim countries.
The report offers a mixed review of Bush's efforts to promote democracy in the Middle East. It agrees with Bush that democratic reforms "probably would drive a wedge" between extremists and moderates, but warns that "destabilizing transitions will create new opportunities" for terrorists.
Democrats seized on the declassified excerpts to declare Bush's policies a failure. They also demanded the release of the full National Intelligence Estimate, not just the four-page "key judgments."
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who has read the full report as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the withheld sections would be "very, very enlightening and eye-opening for the American people."
"As far as I'm concerned, the entire report should be declassified, period," he said. "There is material beyond the findings which is highly relevant to this subject."
Bush and his aides said the withheld sections include information that could jeopardize intelligence sources.
"There's a very high bar for declassification," Frances Fragos Townsend, the president's counterterrorism adviser, told reporters in a conference call. "You're always going to weigh it on the side of protecting national security interests and sources and methods."
Bush said he ordered the release in response to the unauthorized news media disclosures so that Americans "can draw their own conclusions" from the document. He took issue with suggestions that the analysis means the war was a mistake.
"To suggest that if we weren't in Iraq, we would see a rosier scenario with fewer extremists joining the radical movement requires us to ignore 20 years of experience. We weren't in Iraq when we got attacked on September the 11th," he said at a White House news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Speaking out for the first time since the weekend news reports, Bush decried the release of classified information and charged that the disclosures were intended to hurt Republicans in the November congressional elections.
"Somebody has taken it upon themselves to leak classified information for political purposes," he said. "Once again, there's a leak out of our government, coming right down the stretch in this campaign, to create confusion in the minds of the American people."
Bush, however, has ordered the release of classified information for political purposes himself. In the runup to the Iraq invasion, he directed intelligence officials to release another National Intelligence Estimate assessing Iraq's efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction. Many of the conclusions in that report turned out to be wrong.
Excerpts from the previously classified National Intelligence Estimate on global terrorism are available at www.dni.gov, the Web site of the director of the national intelligence.
NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE ESTIMATE
Following are excerpts from the declassified version of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies' consensus April 2006 National Intelligence Estimate on "Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States."
_ On the global jihadist movement:
"United States-led counterterrorism efforts have seriously damaged the leadership of al-Qaida and disrupted its operations; however, we judge that al-Qaida will continue to pose the greatest threat to the Homeland and US interests abroad by a single terrorist organization. We also assess that the global jihadist movement—which includes al-Qaida, affiliated and independent terrorist groups, and emerging networks and cells—is spreading and adapting to counterterrorism efforts."
"Four underlying factors are fueling the spread of the jihadist movement: (1) Entrenched grievances, such as corruption, injustice, and fear of Western domination, leading to anger, humiliation, and a sense of powerlessness; (2) the Iraq `jihad;" (3) the slow pace of real and sustained economic, social, and political reforms in many Muslim majority nations; and (4) pervasive anti-US sentiments among most Muslims—all of which jihadists exploit."
"The jihadists' greatest vulnerability is that their ultimate political solution—an ultra-conservative interpretation of shari'a-based governance spanning the Muslim world—is unpopular with the vast majority of Muslims."
_ On terrorist tactics:
"We judge that most jihadist groups—both well-known and newly formed—will use improvised explosive devices and suicide attacks focused primarily on soft targets . . . and that they will attempt to conduct sustained terrorist attacks in urban environments. Fighters with experience in Iraq are a potential source of leadership for jihadists pursuing these tactics."
_ On Iraq:
"We assess that the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives; perceived jihadist success there would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere.
"The Iraq conflict has become the `cause celebre' for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement."
"Al-Qaida, now merged with Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's network, is exploiting the situation in Iraq to attract new recruits and donors and to maintain its leadership role."
_ On the Internet:
"The radicalization process is occurring more quickly, more widely, and more anonymously in the Internet age, raising the likelihood of surprise attacks by unknown groups whose members and supporters may be difficult to pinpoint.
"We judge that groups of all stripes will increasingly use the Internet to communicate, propagandize, recruit, train, and obtain logistical and financial support."
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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