Intelligence report rocks Bush stance

NEW YORK — US spy agencies dropped a political bombshell six weeks before national elections, with the leak Sunday of a classified report concluding that the war in Iraq has spawned a new wave of radicalism and increased the global threat of terrorism.

The intelligence document rocked a central pillar of the Republican Party’s campaign platform ahead of November elections: That the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the ouster of Saddam Hussein made America safer, not weaker.

With opinion polls showing President George W. Bush’s party possibly losing control of both Houses of Congress in the the mid-term polls, in large part due to unhappiness over the war in Iraq, the report stating categorically the opposite will make for painful reading at the White House.

Bush has argued repeatedly in pre-election speeches that Iraq is the central front in the war on terrorism and that demands for a US troop withdrawal from the country by the opposition Democrats underscores why the center-left party should not be trusted with the nation’s security.

“The security of the civilised world depends on victory in the war on terror, and that depends on victory in Iraq,” Bush said in one speech on August 31.

Such assertions were looking decidedly shaky Sunday after The New York Times and The Washington Post released details of the classified National Intelligence Estimate, the most comprehensive assessment yet of the war, based on analyses of all 16 of America’s intelligence agencies.

The report, Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States, says “the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse,” an official familiar with the document told The Times.

The Washington Post said the report described the Iraq conflict as the primary recruiting vehicle for violent extremists.

“While the US has seriously damaged Al Qaeda and disrupted its ability to carry out major operations since the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, it noted, radical networks have spread and decentralised.

Democratic leaders were quick to jump on the report’s conclusions as clear evidence of the failure of Bush’s policies.

“This intelligence document should put the final nail in the coffin for President Bush’s phony argument about the Iraq war,” Senator Edward Kennedy said in a statement Sunday.

“The fact that we need a new direction in Iraq to really win the war on terror and make Americans safer could not be clearer or more urgent — yet this administration stubbornly clings to a failed ‘stay-the-course’ strategy,” he said. The White House, while reiterating its traditional stance of not commenting on classified reports, said The New York Times story “isn’t representative of the complete document.” “We’ve always said that the terrorists are determined. Keeping the pressure on and staying on the offence is the best way to win the war on terror,” a White House spokesman added.

But the leaked intelligence report is hardly good news for Bush and the Republicans, coming on top of a messy revolt by top Republican senators against a Bush plan for legitimising how the US interrogates and prosecutes terrorist suspects.

The Senate rebels, who included possible candidates to succeed Bush in 2008, reached a compromise agreement with the White House late this week.

But the unseemly row already diverted attention away from Republican efforts to present a unified front on the issue of national security during the final stretch of the election campaign.

Republican leaders tried to brush aside the intelligence document, which they said they had not yet seen.

“If it wasn’t Iraq it would be Afghanistan, if it wasn’t Afghanistan it would be other [issues] that they would use as a method of continuing their recruitment,” Senator John McCain, a leading potential presidential contender, said on CBS’ Face The Nation.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist expressed confidence US voters would not be swayed by the intelligence report.

“I think the American people, when they read an article like that … say, ‘Listen, just keep me safe — I just want to be safe in Nashville, Tennessee, I want to be safe in Memphis, New York City, Washington, DC,’ that’s what they want.”

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