The Bush administration said Tuesday it is not trying to minimize the seriousness of the Iraqi insurgency. The comments follow news accounts of a Central Intelligence Agency report warning that the security situation in Iraq is deteriorating.
The State Department says the administration has a clear-eyed and realistic view of the insurgency. But it says insurgent attacks, which have claimed the lives of scores of members of Iraq's fledgling security forces in recent days, are only one part of a complex situation in the country.
The comments followed publication by the New York Times Tuesday of details of what was said to be a farewell report by the outgoing CIA station chief in Iraq, warning that security conditions in the country were deteriorating, and may not improve anytime soon.
The tone of the leaked document appeared much more pessimistic than public statements in recent days by Bush administration officials, who have focused on opportunities presented by the planned elections there at the end of next month.
Among other things the CIA official, who is said to have finished a year-long term in Iraq last month, reportedly warned of more violence and sectarian clashes unless there is a marked improvement in the Iraqi government's ability to assert authority and build the economy.
At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said he would not comment on the contents of what he said was a privileged diplomatic communication.
At the same time, he did not deny its existence or the contents as quoted by the New York Times, and insisted there has been no attempt by the administration to minimize problems faced in Iraq.
"We've always been very clear-eyed and realistic about the challenges before us in Iraq," he said. "Nobody's trying to sugar-coat anything. We recognize that we've got a tenacious and difficult insurgency to deal with. I think we have a good understanding of what we're confronting. We have, together with the Iraqi interim government, a plan for dealing with it."
Mr. Ereli said the strategy has been reflected in recent weeks in cities like Najaf and Fallujah, where he said the U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi government troops have used military force and political pressure to, in his words, take the fight to the enemy.
He said the United States has an aggressive effort to develop Iraqi security forces as evidenced by the 2,000 Iraqis who took part in the drive against insurgents in Fallujah.
He also pointed to a robust U.S. reconstruction effort in Iraq, which he said is beginning to improve the everyday lives of Iraqis and attenuate public sympathy for the insurgents.
The spokesman said assessments like the reported CIA document are important to having a complete understanding of what is going on in Iraq, but said they are only part of a very nuanced and complicated picture of the country.
The New York Times said U.S. Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte filed a written dissent to the CIA report, saying coalition and Iraqi government forces were having more success against the insurgents than the report suggested.
It said the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, General George Casey, offered no initial objections, but said he may have had subsequent criticism.
The report by the CIA official, who was not identified by name, was the latest of several intelligence reports critical of Iraq policy leaked to the media in recent months.
The new CIA Director, Porter Goss, who took office in September, has sought to discourage unauthorized disclosures.
In a controversial staff memo last month that also was leaked to the media, Mr. Goss said the job of agency employees is to, in his words, provide the intelligence as we see it.
But he also said CIA officials are to support the administration in their work, and not identify with, or champion, opposition to its policies.