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Iraq Transition

NIE: Al Qaeda 'damaged,' becoming more scattered

Story Highlights

• War in Iraq is a "cause celebre" for jihadists, according to report
• Report says attacks could increase if "jihadist movement" grows
• Report says combating jihadists requires more than killing their leaders
• Dems, GOP disagree over meaning of NIE
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Islamist terrorists are adapting to global counterterrorism efforts, as the "jihadist movement" is becoming more decentralized and spawning offshoot organizations with anti-American agendas, according to a declassified intelligence document released Tuesday.

The movement lacks a global strategy, but new terror cells are likely to emerge, making it "harder to find and undermine jihadist groups," states the National Intelligence Estimate on global terrorism trends.

The report adds that the U.S.-led Iraq war has become a "cause celebre for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement."

If it is perceived that the jihadists in Iraq are succeeding, it will fuel more extremism, according to the report. But if the jihadists are perceived to have failed, "we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight," the report states.

Earlier Tuesday, President Bush angrily lambasted a media report that said the document asserted the Iraq war had increased the terrorist threat to the United States.

He added that media accounts of the leak of the intelligence report were meant to "create confusion in the minds of the American people" and promised to push Director of National Security John Negroponte to declassify the findings so "everyone can draw their own conclusions." (Watch Bush call critics of war 'naive' -- 3:10)

The NIE findings state that U.S.-led counterterrorism efforts have "seriously damaged" al Qaeda's leadership and operations, but that the group still poses "the greatest threat to the homeland and U.S. interests."

It adds that Muslims who describe themselves as jihadists are increasing in "number and geographic dispersion."

"If this trend continues, threats to U.S. interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide," the report states.

Fighting jihad

The report credits four factors with facilitating the spread of the jihadist movement: 1) "entrenched grievances, such as corruption, injustice and fear of Western domination;" 2) jihad in Iraq; 3) the torpid pace of economic, social and political reforms in Muslim nations; and 4) a "pervasive anti-U.S. sentiment among Muslims."

The solution requires more than killing or capturing al Qaeda leaders, the estimate states, but "the loss of key leaders, particularly Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and [Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi, in rapid succession, probably would cause the group to fracture into smaller groups."

The NIE was issued in April, several weeks before al Qaeda in Iraq leader al-Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. airstrike.

Among ways to combat the growing Islamist terror movement are exposing the jihadists' radical ideology and urging respected Muslim leaders to denounce terrorist tactics, according to the report.

For instance, the idea of a government based in ultraconservative Islamic law, or Sharia, doesn't sit well with the majority of Muslims, the report states. Exposing the jihadists' "ultimate political solution" would help divide jihadists "from the audiences they seek to persuade."

Also, condemnations of violence by notable clerics signal a trend from terror to peaceful political activism, the report states. The rejections of violence reduce "the ability of radicals to capitalize on passive community support. In this way, the Muslim mainstream emerges as the most powerful weapon in the war on terror."

The U.S. also must focus its efforts on stopping jihadists from obtaining chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons, and on the increased use of the Internet to "communicate, propagandize, recruit, train and obtain logistical and financial support," the report states.

The full findings are posted at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence Web site. (www.dni.govexternal link).

Response mixed

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, said the NIE shows that the Iraq war has stretched the U.S. military too thin, reduced military readiness and misguided resources for the war on terror.

"The intelligence community -- all 16 agencies -- believes the war in Iraq has fueled terrorism," he said in a statement. "But it is the mistakes we made in Iraq -- the lack of planning, the mismanagement and the complete incompetence of our leadership -- that has done the most damage to our security."

House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, had a different take, saying the NIE shows the U.S. not only damaged and disrupted al Qaeda operations, but also "that U.S. success in Iraq is the key to ensuring that this terrorist threat does not grow."

The diffusion of terrorists have made organizations like al Qaeda less effective "because President Bush and Republicans rightly chose to confront these challenges directly, seeking to destroy their sanctuaries, terrorist financing and planning networks," Boehner said in a written statement.

On Tuesday, congressional Democrats put pressure on the administration to disclose more analysis by the intelligence community on Iraq and the new generation of Islamic terrorists. (Watch Iraq at the center of a highly charged day in Washington -- 2:23 external link)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, asked that the chamber go into secret session to discuss the intelligence reports, something the House has not done since 1983. The proposal was denied by a vote of 171-217 along mostly party lines.

Senate Democrats also demanded Tuesday that Negroponte testify about the report and fully declassify not only the portion leaked over the weekend but also all intelligence estimates dealing with terrorism.

Rep. Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, called on the White House to release a second, previously unknown national intelligence document that focuses solely on Iraq. Harman says the document has been kept in draft form so that it won't be seen before midterm elections.

"I hear it paints a grim picture. And because it does, I am told it is being held until after the November elections. If this estimate is finished, it should not be stamped 'draft' and hidden from the American people until after the elections," Harman said in a statement.

White House homeland security adviser Frances Townsend denied the claim, saying the report in question was commissioned in August and won't be complete until January.

CNN's Andrea Koppel and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.

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At a Tuesday press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, President Bush said he would declassify the NIE findings.


• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
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