Wednesday, January 19, 2005

U.S. Intelligence Says Iraqis Will Press for Withdrawal

U.S. Intelligence Says Iraqis Will Press for Withdrawal:
“The Iraqi government that emerges from elections on Jan. 30 will almost certainly ask the United States to set a specific timetable for withdrawing its troops, according to new American intelligence estimates described by senior administration officials.

The reports also warn that the elections will be followed by more violence, including an increased likelihood of clashes between Shiites and Sunnis, possibly even leading to civil war, the officials said.

This pessimism is consistent with other assessments over the past six months, including a classified cable sent in November by the Central Intelligence Agency's departing station chief in Baghdad. But the new assessments, from the C.I.A. and the Defense and State Departments, focus more closely on the aftermath of the election, including its potential implications for American policy, the officials said.

The assessments are based on the expectation that a Shiite Arab coalition will win the elections, in which Shiites are expected to make up a vast majority of voters, the officials said. Leaders of the coalition have promised voters they will press Washington for a timetable for withdrawal, and the assessments say the new Iraqi government will feel bound, at least publicly, to meet that commitment.

Such a request would put new pressure on the Bush administration, which has said it would honor an Iraqi request but has declined to set a timetable for withdrawing the 173,000 American and other foreign troops now in Iraq. Officials, including Colin L. Powell, the secretary of state, have said such decisions should be based on security needs, which include training more Iraqis.

"Nobody wants to withdraw in such a way as to leave Iraq ill prepared to confront an insurgency which is not going to disappear," a senior administration official said. "So the focus is, how can we maximize our training program to get as many Iraqis out there as quickly as possible."

The official said the United States was hoping that the new Iraqi government would settle for a schedule based on the military situation, not the calendar. But the official said there was uncertainty about how vigorously the new Iraqi government would press for a reduction of American forces.”

In an interview with The Washington Post published over the weekend, Mr. Bush declined to be specific about any kind of a timetable for a withdrawal. But administration officials said that in a meeting last Thursday, Mr. Bush's principal national security advisers had discussed how the United States might respond if the new Iraq government put forward such a request.

The grim tone of the new intelligence assessments was first reported by Knight Ridder newspapers in articles that appeared Monday in The Miami Herald and elsewhere.

In recent days, Mr. Powell and others among Mr. Bush's senior advisers have become more direct in acknowledging that the anti-American insurgency is not likely to fade soon.
con·cept: U.S. Intelligence Says Iraqis Will Press for Withdrawal