Iraq's Sunni-Shiite Anguish Grows ; as Sectarian Violence Continues, the US Military Cautions That Results of Its Baghdad Troop 'Surge' Will Take Time

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When National Intelligence Director John Negroponte briefed the Senate last week on Iraq, he cautioned lawmakers that the hope for stability there rests on quelling unabated sectarian violence.

That view was reflected in a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), parts of which were declassified Friday, that describes an Iraq Army and police bedeviled by the sectarian allegiances of their members. The report deemed it unlikely that these forces will move effectively against militias in the next 18 months - particularly against the Shiite groups with ties to Iraq's ruling parties.

Indeed, US military officials cautioned patience - despite the deployment of an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq.

"[That] will not turn the security situation overnight," Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said in Baghdad. "Iraqi forces suffer deficiencies in leadership and logistics. It will take more than two months to solve these problems."

The urgent need to address the strife that flows in Baghdad's streets as well as its political corridors was painfully evident in a devastating weekend attack.

The deadliest single suicide bombing since the war began hit a crowded Shiite market on Saturday, leaving at least 135 Iraqis dead.

Overall, the assessment from the NIE, a report from the US intelligence community, was bleak, especially in its evaluation of the ability of Iraqi security forces to get its arms around the burgeoning violence.

The violence is also leading to even greater polarization of Iraqi society, both among the man on the street and the country's political leaders, the report found.

Also, it underscored what experts and US government analysts have been saying for some time - that the solution to Iraq's problems rests on the creation of a national compact that will involve compromise for the country's Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. It noted that the trend is in the other direction.

"Even if the violence is diminished, the current winner-take-all attitude and sectarian animosities infecting the political scene Iraqi leaders will be hard pressed to achieve sustained political reconciliation" over the next 18 months, the term of the estimate, the report says.

Despite the report's downbeat assessment, it argues in line with the Bush administration that the situation would be worse if US troops were to withdraw now.

The report makes the argument that if the US withdrew "rapidly," Iraq's security force would be "unlikely to survive as a nonsectarian national institution," that "massive civilian casualties and forced population displacement would be probable," and that outside countries "might" intervene directly in the conflict. …


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