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Bush was told twice of Iraq challenges

Times Staff Writer

Two months before the invasion of Iraq, U.S. intelligence agencies twice warned the Bush administration that establishing a democracy there would prove difficult and that Al Qaeda would use political instability to increase its operations, according to a Senate report released Friday.

The report, issued by the Senate Intelligence Committee, brought to light once-classified warnings that accurately forecasted many of the military and political problems the Bush administration and Iraqi officials have faced since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

These warnings were distributed to senior officials with daily access to President Bush and others at the very top of the administration, the report states.

Although many names were left blank to protect members of the intelligence community, the report’s 81-page list of who received the predictions included figures throughout the national security bureaucracy.

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One of those was then-deputy national security advisor Stephen J. Hadley, now the national security advisor.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), said the report demonstrated that “the intelligence community gave the administration plenty of warning about the difficulties we would face if the decision was made to go to war.”

He added: “These dire warnings were widely distributed at the highest levels of government, and it’s clear that the administration didn’t plan for any of them.”

Unlike previous studies of the buildup to the war, the Senate report did not focus on the intelligence community’s flawed information, which included overstated assessments of Iraq’s potential for developing weapons of mass destruction.

The committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, criticized the report, saying that it highlighted only elements that seemed important in retrospect and that it distorted what was presented to policymakers in 2003.

He said the committee’s inquiry into the intelligence community’s prewar assessments “has become too embroiled in politics and partisanship to produce an accurate and meaningful report.”

At a news conference Thursday, Bush was asked about the impending release of the report. He responded that “going into Iraq, we were warned about a lot of things, some of which happened, some of which didn’t happen.

“I weighed the risks and rewards of any decision,” he said, reiterating his view that removing Saddam Hussein from power was worth the price.

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Bush also said, “Al Qaeda is going to fight us wherever we are.”

The report spotlighted two documents prepared in January 2003 by the National Intelligence Council. One document was titled “Regional Consequences of Regime Change in Iraq,” the other “Principal Challenges in Post-Saddam Iraq.”

These papers warned that:

* Establishing “an Iraqi democracy would be a long, difficult and probably turbulent process, with potential for backsliding into Iraq’s tradition of authoritarianism.”

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* Unless the occupying forces prevented it, “score settling would occur throughout Iraq between those associated with Saddam’s regime and those who have suffered most under it.”

* Among the majority Shiite population, which Saddam had kept out of power, a political form of Islam could take root, “particularly if economic recovery were slow and foreign troops remained in the country for a long period.”

* Iran would probably try to shape the post-Hussein Iraq, in a bid to position itself as a regional power.

* Al Qaeda would probably take advantage of the war to increase its terrorist activities, and the lines between it and other terrorist groups “could become blurred.”

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Each of these assessments was prescient. And Bush now cites the danger posed by Al Qaeda forces in Iraq as a major reason for resisting calls that the U.S. begin decreasing its troop levels and set a firm deadline for withdrawal.

In early 2003, even as their deputies were receiving the intelligence community papers, top administration officials -- among them Vice President Dick Cheney and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld -- publicly speculated that U.S. troops would be greeted warmly as liberators and gave no hint that some analysts were raising red flags about difficulties to come.

One assessment disclosed in the Senate report missed the mark; it predicted that heightened terrorist threats worldwide stemming from the war would decline, after an initial spike, in three to five years after the invasion. That decline has not occurred, according to State Department officials who monitor such threats.

The Senate committee approved the release of its report by a vote of 10-5. Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe of Maine and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska joined the Democratic majority in supporting its publication.

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Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a member of the panel, praised the compilation of the cautions circulated by the intelligence community but said the report should have critiqued more thoroughly how the assessments were handled within the administration.

james.gerstenzang@latimes.com

The report is available online at https://intelligence.senate.gov/prewar.pdf


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