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Report says Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence major threat

Story Highlights

• Intelligence estimate summary: Some elements of violence fit "civil war" definition
• Declassified version finds Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence the primary source of conflict
• Sectarian violence seen as top threat to U.S. goals in the war-ridden nation
• Congress receives 90-page classified report
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence has become the primary source of conflict in the war-ravaged nation and Iraqi leaders will be "hard-pressed to achieve sustained political reconciliation" in the next 18 months, according to a summary of the National Intelligence Estimate released Friday.

The report, which was distributed to Congress on Friday and on which President Bush received a briefing Thursday, calls on all Iraqis -- Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds -- to make significant concessions to stabilize the country.

However, the summary, a nine-page declassified version of the 90-page report, makes no determination as to whether Iraq is amid a civil war.

The summary said that "civil war" is too simple a moniker to describe the situation because the violence includes "extensive Shia-on-Shia violence, al Qaeda [in Iraq] and Sunni insurgent attacks on coalition forces and widespread criminally motivated violence." (Watch why the NIE says the situation in Iraq is more than a civil war Video)

However, the term does accurately describe certain elements of the conflict, among them: "the hardening of ethno-sectarian identities, a sea change in the character of the violence, ethno-sectarian mobilization and population displacements," according to the summary. (Watch report's dire warnings about Iraq Video)

Sectarian feuds pose 'daunting' task

Combating the increasing sectarian violence is a "daunting" task, the summary said, because Shiites are insecure about their hold on power after decades of Sunni hegemony in the social, political and economic realms. (Read full report)

This insecurity makes Shiites distrustful of "U.S. efforts to reconcile Iraqi sects and reinforces their unwillingness to engage with the Sunnis on a variety of issues."

On the other hand, "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," the summary said.

The Kurds, meanwhile, are attempting to increase their control of Kirkuk in a bid to include the northern Iraqi city as part of the Kurdistan regional government, making Arab groups nervous, the summary said.

If the situation continues, neighboring countries could intervene in the Sunni-Shiite conflict, while the Kurds' attempt to strengthen autonomy may prompt an anxious Turkey to launch a military incursion, according to the summary.

Warning against rapid troop withdrawal

Taking U.S. forces out of Iraq is not an option, the report said, noting that "rapid withdrawal" of troops "would lead to further deterioration."

The summary said that such a withdrawal would cripple the Iraqi army, intensify Sunni resistance, perpetuate the creation of an al Qaeda state in Anbar province, west of Baghdad, and stoke overall violence.

"Coalition capabilities, including force levels, resources and operations, remain an essential stabilizing element in Iraq," the summary said.

It warned that unless sectarian violence is kept in check, the situation in Iraq will continue its downward spiral.

The tenuous security situation could be compounded if mass sectarian killings continue, religious or political leaders are assassinated or if Sunnis defect from the government.

Divisions hamper Iraqi police

If any of these occur, violence could increase and "shift Iraq's trajectory from gradual decline to rapid deterioration with grave humanitarian, political and security consequences," the summary said.

Reversing conditions may be difficult because the Iraqi security forces, especially police, are plagued by sectarian divisions as well as equipment and personnel deficiencies, the summary said.

Despite what it calls "real improvements," the summary said that Iraqi forces "will be hard-pressed in the next 12-18 months to execute significantly increased security responsibilities, and particularly to operate independently against Shia militias with success."

The tide could turn if "strengthened" Iraqi security forces -- with more loyalty to the government and more support from U.S.-led coalition forces -- are able to reduce violence, the summary said. Iraqi leaders then could begin working toward "longer-term stability, political progress and economic recovery."

Also the summary noted a void in the Iraqi leadership that must be filled by "unifying leaders" among the Sunnis and Shiites.

Charging that Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence has surpassed the violence spawned by al Qaeda in Iraq, the summary expressed uncertainty about the ability of Iraqi leaders to move beyond sectarian interests, fight extremists, end corruption and build national institutions.

Roles of Iran and Syria

The classified report, titled "Prospects for Iraq's Stability: A Challenging Road Ahead," also accuses Iran and Syria of aiding and influencing Iraqi extremists and warns that sectarian violence is the most immediate threat to U.S. goals in Iraq, the summary said. Iran and Syria, it stated, are lesser threats to the country's stability.

"Nonetheless, Iranian lethal support for select groups of Iraqi Shia militants clearly intensifies the conflict in Iraq. Syria continues to provide safe haven for expatriate Iraqi Baathists and to take less than adequate measures to stop the flow of foreign jihadists into Iraq," the summary said.

Outgoing National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, who has been tapped to fill the No. 2 post at the State Department, briefed President Bush on the estimate Thursday, a senior administration official said. Bush used "the underlying intelligence in the NIE" to develop his proposal to send 21,500 additional troops to Iraq, the official said.

Democratic lawmaker: 'Last roll of the dice'

The report was compiled at the request of Congress, which asked for it in August, according to Sen. Edward Kennedy's office. The Massachusetts Democrat was joined by six other Democratic senators in sponsoring the Senate bill.

National security adviser Stephen Hadley said the intelligence, which has been provided for several months, prompted Bush to pursue his new strategy for Iraq. The report takes a "tough look at Iraq" and "makes clear the challenges we face," Hadley said.

Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Missouri, said the report shows that the situation in Iraq is "dire and deteriorating" and it could get worse because the Iraqi government may be "too sectarian" to achieve reconciliation.

"The president's infusion of additional troops in Iraq is probably the last roll of the dice," said Skelton, chairman of the Armed Services Committee. "But rather than convincing me that this is the right approach, the NIE makes it more clear than ever that the president's plan has little chance of success."

The ranking Republican on the House intelligence committee, Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, said the report makes it clear that U.S. troops should not be withdrawn from Iraq.

"The NIE makes clear that we cannot continue the same stubborn strategy that has brought us to this point in Iraq," Hoekstra said in a statement.

"The focus for Congress and the administration should be on developing strategies that allow us to move ahead and increase the capabilities of Iraq's people, leaders, military and security forces to address internal Iraqi issues."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said the report proves the "administration has clearly lost its way," and he pledged that the "real debate on the president's flawed Iraq war policy" will begin next week when the Senate takes up proposals examining Bush's new war policy.

"Congress will at long last have an opportunity to send a strong message to the president that a change of course is needed," Reid said in a statement.

CNN's Elaine Quijano and Suzanne Malveaux contributed to this report.

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Outgoing National Intelligence Director John Negroponte told a Senate panel this week that ridding Iraq of extremist elements is key to stability.

KEY FINDINGS

Government sources familiar with the National Intelligence Estimate say the report:

• States Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence surpasses the al Qaeda in Iraq-formented insurgency as the primary source of conflict.
• Expresses deep uncertainty about Iraqi leaders' ability to move beyond sectarian interests, fight extremists, end corruption and build national institutions.
•Warns "rapid withdrawal" of U.S. forces "would lead to further deterioriation."
• Charges Iran with supplying and aiding Iraqi extremists.
• States sectarian violence is the most immediate threat to the Bush administration's goals.

SPECIAL REPORT

• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide
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