NIE Cliff Notes

| Fri Feb. 2, 2007 2:17 PM EST

If you visited our News and Politics page today -- or just about any news outlet on the web -- you know that the latest National Intelligence Estimate is out. The NIE represents the best work and most solid info from the intelligence community, and is supposed to be created in a timely fashion whenever Congress or the White House asks. This NIE took about six months to create, fueling speculation -- well-founded, considering the hijinks that were involved in the production of the pre-war NIE -- that the delay was intended to give Bush time to make his decision on what to do with Iraq and then make his case to the American public.

Taking a look at the declassified key judgments [PDF], it's impossible to miss how grim the thing is:

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Iraqi society's growing polarization, the persistent weakness of the security forces
and the state in general, and all sides' ready recourse to violence are collectively driving an increase in communal and insurgent violence and political extremism. Unless 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.

Nevertheless, even if violence is diminished, given the current winner-take-all attitude and sectarian animosities infecting the political scene, Iraqi leaders will be hard pressed to achieve sustained political reconciliation in the time frame of this Estimate.

On the Shiites (they don't trust the Sunnis, the U.S., or the idea of a reconciled three-party state):

Decades of subordination to Sunni political, social, and economic domination have
made the Shia deeply insecure about their hold on power. This insecurity leads the Shia to mistrust US efforts to reconcile Iraqi sects and reinforces their unwillingness to engage with the Sunnis on a variety of issues, including adjusting the structure of Iraq's federal system, reining in Shia militias, and easing de-Bathification.

On the Sunnis (they don't trust the Shiites, and don't want to get slaughtered):

Many Sunni Arabs remain unwilling to accept their minority status, believe the
central government is illegitimate and incompetent, and are convinced that Shia dominance will increase Iranian influence over Iraq, in ways that erode the state's Arab character and increase Sunni repression.

On withdrawal (it will be bad. Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia will likely intervene, a refugee crisis would be probable):

Coalition capabilities, including force levels, resources, and operations, remain an
essential stabilizing element in Iraq. If Coalition forces were withdrawn rapidly during the term of this Estimate, we judge that this almost certainly would lead to a significant increase in the scale and scope of sectarian conflict in Iraq, intensify Sunni resistance to the Iraqi Government, and have adverse consequences for national reconciliation.

If such a rapid withdrawal were to take place, we judge that the ISF would be
unlikely to survive as a non-sectarian national institution; neighboring countries—invited by Iraqi factions or unilaterally—might intervene openly in the conflict; massive civilian casualties and forced population displacement would be probable...

Rebuking Bush's posturing about Iran:

Iraq's neighbors influence, and are influenced by, events within Iraq, but the
involvement of these outside actors is not likely to be a major driver of violence or the prospects for stability because of the self-sustaining character of Iraq's internal sectarian dynamics.

The NIE says there are three possible outcomes if democracy fails, which seems fairly certain at this point. (1) A rapid deterioration of the country's central government and an effective split into three sect-based semi-autonomous regions. This would not be good: "Collapse of this magnitude would generate fierce violence for at least several years," says the NIE. (2) Emergence of a Shia strongman, which would be the ultimate irony, topped only if we support him for a while and then lead an ill-advised invasion to depose him in twenty years. (3) Chaos. "The emergence of a checkered pattern of local control would present the greatest potential for instability, mixing extreme ethnosectarian violence with debilitating intra-group clashes."

As Spencer Ackerman put it in his thoughts at TPM Cafe, happy Friday!

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