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    Iraqi Government Still Shaky, Says New US Intelligence Estimate

    A new U.S. intelligence estimate says there have been some improvements in the security situation in Iraq. It also says, however, that the Iraqi government is still unable to govern effectively and will remain in a precarious state, at least for the near future. VOA correspondent Gary Thomas reports.

    The new National Intelligence Estimate on stability in Iraq says there has been what it terms "measurable but uneven" improvement in Iraq's security situation since the beginning of the year, and that further modest improvements can be expected.

    But it also says that levels of insurgent and sectarian violence remain high, and that Iraqi forces cannot cope with the strife without the continuing presence of U.S. forces.

    On the political front, its says the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been unable to achieve political reconciliation necessary to stability. It says his situation is likely to remain precarious for at least the next six to 12 months.

    The new National Intelligence Estimate, which represents the highest collective judgment of the 16 U.S. agencies that deal in intelligence, is actually an update of one that was done on Iraqi security in January. As was done then, a summary of key judgments was released to the public, but the full estimate itself remains classified.

    Its release comes at a crucial time. The U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, are due to present a report next month on the success of the so-called "surge" strategy of temporarily increasing U.S. troop levels in Iraq.

    The intelligence estimate says that any drawdown of U.S. forces from a counterinsurgency role to one of just support for Iraqi forces would erode what modest security gains have been achieved.

    National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said the new estimate shows that although challenges remain, the president's strategy is working and should continue.

    "Today's key [intelligence] judgments clearly show that the military's counterinsurgency strategy, fully operational since midsummer, has begun to slow the rapidly increasing violence and patterns of that violence that we have been seeing in Iraq," he said.

    On Wednesday, President Bush expressed his support for Prime Minister al-Maliki.

    "Prime Minister Maliki is a good guy, a good man with a difficult job, and I support him," he said. "And it's not up to politicians in Washington, D.C. to say whether he will remain in his position - that is up to the Iraqi people who now live in a democracy, and not a dictatorship."

    But, also citing the new estimate on lack of progress on the political front, Republican Senator John Warner, who has just returned from Iraq, called on President Bush Thursday to announce a token withdrawal of some U.S. troops from Iraq to spur Iraqi leaders toward political reconciliation.

    "Given the NIE [National Intelligence Estimate], which says 'Mr. President, it's up to 12 months before we can expect any particular degree of reconciliation,' we simply cannot as a nation stand and put our troops at continuous risk and the loss of life and limb without beginning to take some decisive action which will get everybody's attention," he said.

    The estimate says Iran, concerned about growing Sunni power and U.S. efforts to contain Iran, has intensified funding, weaponry, and training to Iraqi Shi'ite militants. But senior intelligence officials say they have detected no active presence of Iranian Revolutionary Guards or members of its elite al-Quds force inside Iraq. Any training, they say, seems to be conducted in camps on the Iranian side of the border.

    The report adds that Syria has cracked down on infiltration by Sunni extremist groups into Iraq, but that Damascus is providing support to insurgent groups other than al-Qaida.

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