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."
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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 the Times. 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.