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Intelligence on Iraq

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Now that the Beltway punditry slowly comes to recognize the stupidity of their assessments of Iraq, one of the absurd lines they trot out with regularity is that they were “misled” by assessments from the intelligence community. The intelligence community, they say, sold them on the idea of WMDs in Iraq, and portrayed the post-invasion scenario as a cakewalk to democracy in the Middle East. That was never so. It seems that the intelligence community – notwithstanding immense pressure and coercion from the Neocon warlocks positioned in the Defense Department, the office of Vice President Cheney and in key editorial boards – saw things pretty accurately. That at least is the upshot of a report in the Sunday Washington Post from the nation’s leading national security reporter, Walter Pincus.

The two assessments, titled “Principal Challenges in Post-Saddam Iraq” and “Regional Consequences of Regime Change in Iraq,” were produced by the National Intelligence Council (NIC) and will be a major part of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s long-awaited Phase II report on prewar intelligence assessments about Iraq. The assessments were delivered to the White House and to congressional intelligence committees before the war started…

The assessment on post-Hussein Iraq included judgments that while Iraq was unlikely to split apart, there was a significant chance that domestic groups would fight each other and that ex-regime military elements could merge with terrorist groups to battle any new government. It even talks of guerrilla warfare, according to congressional sources and former intelligence officials.

The second NIC assessment discussed “political Islam being boosted and the war being exploited by terrorists and extremists elsewhere in the region,” one former senior analyst said. It also suggested that fear of U.S. military dominance and occupation of a Middle East country – one sacred to Islam – would attract foreign Islamic fighters to the area.

The NIC assessments paint “a very sobering and, as it has turned out, mostly accurate picture of the aftermath of the invasion,” according to a former senior intelligence officer familiar with the studies. He sought anonymity because he is not authorized to speak about still-classified assessments.

So let’s be clear about this: the problem was never with the intelligence analysts. They did their job in a professional manner. There are the usual blend of hits and misses, but the professionalism of the product is unmistakable. The problem was and is with the Neocon know-it-alls who, we should now openly declare, turn out to be know-nothings.

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