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Al Qaeda terrorism in Iraq foreseen

Assessments saw attacks on US forces

WASHINGTON -- The US intelligence community accurately predicted months before the Iraq war that Al Qaeda would link up with elements from former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's regime and militant Islamists to attack US forces in Iraq, according to a report released yesterday by a Senate committee.

Two national intelligence assessments sent to the White House and other senior Bush administration policy makers in January 2003 also predicted that Al Qaeda "would try to take advantage of US attention on postwar Iraq to reestablish its presence in Afghanistan," according to the Senate report.

The Phase II report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which covers prewar assessments of what conditions would be after the conflict, also said that Iran would seek to influence a postwar Iraq to protect its own security interests and to demonstrate its importance as a regional actor.

The assessments also said that elements within the Iranian government might aggressively use Shi'ite and Kurdish contacts "to sow dissent against the US presence and complicate the formation of a new, pro-US Iraqi government."

"The most chilling and prescient warning from the intelligence community prior to the war was that the American invasion would bring about instability in Iraq that would be exploited by Iran and Al Qaeda terrorists," Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, Democrat of West Virginia, chairman of the committee, and three other Democratic panel members wrote in additional views attached to the 229-page report.

Senator Kit Bond, Republican of Missouri, vice chairman of the panel, and three other Republican members said the assessments were "not a crystal ball" and that the warnings emphasized in the committee report "lacked detail or specificity that would have guided military planners."

Overall, the Republicans said the report "exaggerates the significance of the prewar assessments" and that the Phase II inquiry itself "has become too embroiled in politics and partisanship."

The two assessments put together by the National Intelligence Council predicted that establishing a stable democratic government would be a long, difficult, and turbulent process because Iraq's political culture did "not foster liberalism or democracy," in part because there is "no concept of loyal opposition and no history of alternation of power."

They also suggested that the competition among Iraq's three major groups, the Sunnis, Shi'ites, and Kurds, would "encourage terrorist groups to take advantage of a volatile security environment to launch attacks within Iraq." Because of the deeply divided Iraqi society, the assessments said, there was "a significant chance that domestic groups would engage in violent conflict with one another unless an occupying force prevented them from doing so."

According to the Senate report, the assessments also forecast that the threat of terrorism after the invasion of Iraq "would decline slowly over the subsequent three to five years," but in the interim the "lines between Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups around the world could become blurred."

Occupation of Iraq by the United States "probably would boost proponents of political Islam" and "funds for terrorist groups probably would increase as a result of Muslim outrage over US actions," the assessments predicted.

In the economic field, the analysts predicted that "cuts in electricity or looting of distribution networks would have a cascading disastrous impact" and that large amounts of outside assistance would be needed to provide basic services, such as water and sanitation, in Iraq.

The assessments, much like officials in the Bush administration, inaccurately predicted that Iraq's oil revenues would make postwar reconstruction easier.