No doubt that good news about Iraq has been hard to come by lately for the administration. The failure of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's offensive against the Shiite militia of Moqtada al-Sadr in Basra and Baghdad still stings, and the postmortems by The New York Times
and Washington Post
are not pretty. The Times also reports
this morning that "more than 1,000 Iraqi soldiers and policemen either refused to fight or simply abandoned their posts" during the fighting last week, a toll that features "dozens of officers, including at least two senior field commanders in the battle."
Earlier this week, just after the offensive went kablooey, intelligence officials delivered a new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq to Congress. It's a bit of tentative good news amid all the bad. If the administration has its way, however, you'll never see a declassified version of it. Director of National Intelligence Mike "public debate of intelligence issues kills Americans
" McConnell will do what he can to ensure that. Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Ted Kennedy (D-MA) have begun a push for the administration to release a declassified version of the report, writing a letter earlier this week to McConnell earlier this week (see below).
The general conclusion of the report is evident from the headlines this morning. "Report: Security in Iraq is improving," says
the AP. "U.S. Study Finds Progress in Iraq, but Fragile Security and Potential for Terror Attacks," says
. A senior administration official tells The Wall Street Journal
, "The NIE update confirmed that the surge strategy the president announced in January of last year is working. There's more work to be done, but progress has obviously been made."
And that pretty much seems to be the scope of it. Democrats who have read it are mightily unimpressed and say that it's just part of the broader PR push which will culminate in next week's testimony by Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.
As Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) puts it
, "The stuff that was positive, they emphasized. The negative, they stated, but deemphasized." Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) complains
that it doesn't cover most of the stuff you'd want it to cover: "It's much less insightful than other, recent products and focuses narrowly on counterterrorism efforts in Iraq and the progress of the Iraqi leadership."
And Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), a member of the House intelligence committee, is mighty suspicious
-- both of the report's content and its timing: "One might ask whether the timing of the release and the apparent departure from usual procedures means this is more of a political document than an intelligence document," he tells the Journal
As the Journal
points out, "intelligence reports are often delayed by major developments that could affect the assessments, such as the Sadr fighting." This report, however, was not delayed, and there is no mention of the failed offensive in the report. It has, however, come right in time for the Petraeus and Crocker hearings next week.
April 2, 2008
The Honorable John M. McConnell
Director of National Intelligence
Office of the Director of National Intelligence
Washington, DC 20511
Dear Director McConnell:
We are writing to ask you to release an unclassified summary of the key conclusions and judgments in the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq.
This information is critical to the public debate in the coming weeks and months. Without a current unclassified assessment of the situation in Iraq, Congress and the American people will not have the essential information needed for an informed public debate.
There is no compelling reason not to release an unclassified version of this latest NIE that summarizes the major conclusions and judgments of the classified report, while still protecting the sources and methods of our intelligence community. Recent NIEâs on Iraq have included unclassified versions that were released to the public, and we urge you to continue this established practice.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this important matter, and we look forward to the release of an unclassified NIE on Iraq before General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker testify to the Congress.
With respect and appreciation,
Edward M. Kennedy