US intelligence calls Iraq violence ‘civil war’

United States intelligence has concluded key elements of Iraq’s violence could be described as a ”civil war,” a term Bush administration officials have been reluctant to use until now, a new report said on Friday.

The report, reflecting the consensus views of the American espionage community, also suggested President George Bush’s new strategy for controlling Iraqi violence must show progress within 12 to 18 months or risk further deterioration.

”The intelligence community judges that the term ‘civil war’ does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq,” according to the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) report, parts of which were obtained by Reuters.

”Nonetheless, the term ‘civil war’ accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict, including the hardening of ethno-sectarian identities, a sea change in the character of the violence and population displacements.”

The NIE’s declassified key judgements were due to be released by the office of US intelligence chief John Negroponte later on Friday.

The war in Iraq, which the Bush administration justified on faulty intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, cost the president’s Republicans control of Congress in last November’s election.

The now Democratic-controlled Senate is poised for a showdown over a bipartisan proposal to reject Bush’s decision to send another 21 500 troops to Iraq as part of a plan to quell violence in Baghdad.

The new intelligence estimate said violence between Sunnis and Shi’ites was being driven by increasing polarisation within Iraqi society, compounded by persistent weakness of the security forces and the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

”Unless these efforts to reverse these conditions show measurable progress during the term of this estimate, the coming 12 to 18 months, we assess that the overall security situation will continue to deteriorate at rates comparable to the latter part of 2006,” the 90-page document said.

It also said Iraqi security forces, particularly the Iraqi police, will be hard-pressed to undertake security responsibilities or operate independently against Shi’ite militias. — Reuters

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