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Report: Security is key to Iraq success

By KATHERINE SHRADER, Associated Press WriterTue Jan 23, 7:51 PM ET

A much-anticipated intelligence assessment on Iraq says success depends on improving poor security, which is fueling sectarian violence, hurting the government and slowing reconstruction, a senior intelligence official told senators Tuesday.

The highly classified National Intelligence Estimate from the nation's 16 spy agencies has been in the works for months, with lawmakers increasingly eager to get intelligence analysts' views on Iraq and the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. President Bush recently announced a revised strategy for Iraq, which includes sending in 21,500 additional troops and putting more pressure on the Iraqis to repair the security situation.

Thomas Fingar, the top intelligence official in the Office of the National Intelligence Director, said it will be difficult — but not impossible — for al-Maliki to succeed.

"The logic that we have applied looks at the importance of security — security as an impediment to reconciliation, as an impediment to good governance, as an impediment to reconstruction," Fingar told the Senate Intelligence Committee in a hearing on intelligence changes.

Fingar said improved stability "could open a window for gains in reconciliation" among Iraq's sectarian groups, including the Sunnis and the Shiites. And that "could open possibilities for a moderate coalition in the legislature that could commit better governance," he added, acknowledging the assessment was full of conditional statements.

Fingar said the government's analysts believe that al-Maliki "does not wish to preside over the disintegration of Iraq."

The brief overview provided just a peek at the intelligence estimate. The White House will have to decide what, if any, portions of the document are made public.

Lawmakers have been asking for the assessment since well before the November elections, and the National Intelligence Director's Office said the document could be done by the end of January.

Virginia Sen. John Warner (news, bio, voting record), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee and an Intelligence Committee member, complained that the document remains a work in progress even as Congress enters a debate on resolutions about Bush's plan for Iraq.

"It is incumbent on the intelligence community to provide its best assessment of the Maliki government's chances for success" under Bush's program, Warner said.

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