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White House Rebuts Bleak Report on Iraq

Times Staff Writer

The White House on Sunday sharply disagreed with a new U.S. intelligence assessment that the war in Iraq is encouraging global terrorism, as Bush administration officials stressed that anti-American fervor in the Muslim world began long before the Sept. 11 attacks.

White House spokesman Peter Watkins declined to talk specifically about the National Intelligence Estimate, a classified analysis that represents a consensus view of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies.

The report, delivered to policymakers in April, is the first of its kind since the Iraq war’s start in March 2003. In it, the agencies concluded that the war had damaged the U.S. effort to defeat global terrorism. They said that the war was spreading radicalism from Iraq throughout the Middle East and that the longer it continued, the more likely it was to provide fresh training grounds for future terrorist plots.

But the White House view, according to Watkins, is that much of the radicals’ rage at the United States and Israel goes back generations and is not linked to the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq.

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“Their hatred for freedom and liberty did not develop overnight,” Watkins said. “Those seeds were planted decades ago.”

He said the administration had sought in Iraq to root out hotbeds of terrorism before they grew. “Instead of waiting while they plot and plan attacks to kill innocent Americans, the United States has taken the initiative to fight back,” Watkins said.

President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney also have highlighted the war in Iraq as the United States’ main thrust in the fight against terrorism, contending that the world is safer without Saddam Hussein in power.

Also, Sunday’s newspaper articles on the National Intelligence Estimate -- by the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times -- were “not representative of the complete document,” the White House said. That assessment was echoed by National Intelligence Director John D. Negroponte, whose office prepared the report.

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In a statement e-mailed to reporters Sunday afternoon, Negroponte said “the conclusions of the intelligence community are designed to be comprehensive, and viewing them through the narrow prism of a fraction of judgments distorts the broad framework they create.”

“The Estimate highlights the importance of the outcome in Iraq on the future of global jihadism,” he said. If Iraq develops “a stable political and security environment, the jihadists will be perceived to have failed, and fewer jihadists will leave Iraq determined to carry on the fight elsewhere.”

There is “an enormous and constantly mutating struggle before us in the long war on terror,” Negroponte said.

Senate Armed Services Committee member John McCain (R-Ariz.), a likely 2008 presidential candidate, agreed with the White House view that such radicalism predated the toppling of Hussein and that radicals were always looking for reasons to recruit jihadists.

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“If it wasn’t Iraq, it’d be Afghanistan,” he said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “If it wasn’t Afghanistan, it would be others that they would use as a method of continuing their recruitment.”

But McCain also cautioned that the longer the war continued, “the more likely they are to have more recruits.”

He added, “It’s obvious that the difficulties we’ve experienced in Iraq have certainly emboldened [terrorists]. Lack of success always does that.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said he was “very concerned” by the intelligence analysis.

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“My feel is that the war in Iraq has intensified Islam fundamentalism and radicalism,” he told CNN’s “Late Edition.”

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he agreed with the intelligence assessment that the war was breeding more terrorists.

“President Bush’s repeated missteps in Iraq and his stubborn refusal to change course have made America less safe,” Reid said in a statement Sunday. “No election-year White House PR campaign can hide this truth.

“It is crystal clear,” he added, “that America’s security demands we change course in Iraq.”

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And Rep. Jane Harman of Venice, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on “Late Edition” that “every intelligence analyst I speak to confirms” that Iraq had made matters worse.

The war in Iraq is a “failed policy,” she said.

richard.serrano@latimes.com

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Times staff writer Greg Miller contributed to this report.


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