Monday, December 11, 2006

When Iraqi's Don't Count

Sunni and Shiite Insurgents Remain Mystery to U.S., Iraq Report Charges

on one day in July, American officials in Iraq reported 93 attacks or significant acts of violence, but the study group's review found that 1,100 violent acts actually occurred that day. "The standard for recording attacks acts as a filter to keep events out of reports and databases," the report said.

For example, the report said that a killing of an Iraqi might not be counted by American officials as an attack, and that sectarian violence was not included in American databases if the source of the attack could not be determined. In addition, it said, "a roadside bomb or a rocket

Published: December 11, 2006
The U.S. still does not understand the enemy that American troops are fighting, according to the Iraq Study Group's report.

WASHINGTON, Dec. 10 — Nearly four years after the invasion of Iraq, the United States still does not understand the enemy that American troops are fighting, according to last week's report by the Iraq Study Group.

The commission's final report harshly criticized United States intelligence officials for failing to answer basic questions about the nature of the Sunni insurgency or the increasingly powerful Shiite militias, both of which pose grave threats to American forces.

The intelligence community has had some success hunting Al Qaeda in Iraq, the report found, but that terrorist organization is small and is not the main enemy confronting American troops. The far bigger Sunni insurgency and Shiite militias are still largely mysteries to American intelligence, according to the report.

"While the United States has been able to acquire good and sometimes superb tactical intelligence on Al Qaeda in Iraq, our government still does not understand very well either the insurgency in Iraq or the role of the militias," the report said. It said that American intelligence agencies were "not doing enough to map the insurgency, dissect it, and understand it on a national and provincial level" and that intelligence analysts' "knowledge of the organization, leadership, financing, and operations of militias, as well as their relationship to government security forces, also falls far short of what policy makers need to know."

The study group's findings echo complaints quietly voiced in recent months by a number of current and former American officials, who have warned of the failure by American intelligence officers in Iraq to adequately penetrate the Sunni insurgency. These officials say the level of violence in Baghdad makes it extremely difficult for American intelligence officers to move around the country to gather information, and as a result they rely far too heavily on Iraqis who come to them in the Green Zone or to other major American bases, and on information from the intelligence service of the new Iraqi government.

That leaves the Central Intelligence Agency and American military intelligence vulnerable to manipulation by Iraqis who feed the Americans disinformation because they have an ax to grind or simply as a way to make money by selling information to the United States.

The report quoted an unidentified United States intelligence analyst who told the Iraq Study Group that "we rely too much on others to bring information to us" and "do not understand the context of what we are told."

Bureaucratic obstacles in the American government and a failure by the Bush administration to make the issue a top priority have left the United States with gaping holes in its understanding of the insurgency, the report found.

For example, the report found that the Defense Intelligence Agency rotates its analysts from one posting to another so frequently that few develop any real depth of understanding of the insurgency. "We were told that there are fewer than 10 analysts on the job at the Defense Intelligence Agency who have more than two years' experience in analyzing the insurgency," the report said. "Capable analysts are rotated to new assignments, and on-the-job training begins anew. Agencies must have a better personnel system to keep analytic expertise focused on the insurgency."

An agency spokesman disputed the numbers used by the report and said that the agency had "hundreds of analysts focused on the Iraq situation," adding that a "considerable number of experienced analysts are forward deployed and are directly working the counterterrorism-insurgency issues."

Meanwhile, the Bush administration has not sought to significantly improve on-the-ground intelligence about the enemy, the report said. "The Defense Department and the intelligence community have not invested sufficient people and resources to understand the political and military threat to American men and women in the armed forces," the report said. "Congress has appropriated almost $2 billion this year for countermeasures to protect our troops in Iraq against improvised explosive devices, but the administration has not put forward a request to invest comparable resources in trying to understand the people who fabricate, plant and explode those devices."

The study group recommended that the director of national intelligence and the defense secretary "devote significantly greater analytic resources to the task of understanding the threats and sources of violence in Iraq."

At the same time, the study group found that United States officials had underreported the level of violence in Iraq, providing misleading information to American leaders and the public about the scale of the problem facing American troops.

The study group determined that on one day in July, American officials in Iraq reported 93 attacks or significant acts of violence, but the study group's review found that 1,100 violent acts actually occurred that day. "The standard for recording attacks acts as a filter to keep events out of reports and databases," the report said.

For example, the report said that a killing of an Iraqi might not be counted by American officials as an attack, and that sectarian violence was not included in American databases if the source of the attack could not be determined. In addition, it said, "a roadside bomb or a rocket or mortar attack that doesn't hurt U.S. personnel doesn't count."

"Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals," the report stated.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/11/world/middleeast/11intel.html?ex=157680000&en=ac0e4fb38796c6e8&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod
con·cept: When Iraqi's Don't Count