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Iraq War and the Terrorist Threat: Journalists Discuss Controversial Intelligence Report

Disclosure of a secret U.S. intelligence report linking the war in Iraq to a rise in the threat of global terrorism is fueling a political debate in Washington and elsewhere. Major U.S. newspapers printed excerpts of the leaked report from a classified document called the National Intelligence Estimate. President Bush suggested that the initial news reports about the document had been based on politically motivated leaks. Nonetheless, due to public pressure, the White House has now released about 3-1/2 pages of the full estimate.

The intelligence estimate said that, despite the damage inflicted on the al-Qaida leadership by American-led counterterrorism efforts, the global jihadist movement overall was spreading and adapting to those efforts. The intelligence estimate identified the insurgency in Iraq as one of four underlying factors fueling the spread of Islamic radicalism, along with entrenched grievances, the slow pace of reform, and pervasive anti-American sentiment.

The National Intelligence Director John Negroponte stresses that it does not state that there is an increased threat against the “American homeland,” and he believes the terrorist threat has been reduced since the 9/11 attacks. White House officials say that promoting democracy in Muslim-majority nations could alleviate some of the grievances that militants exploit.

Jordanian journalist Rana Sabbagh says she was part of a group of journalists who met with King Abdullah II during the buildup to the war in Iraq.

Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Ms. Sabbagh notes that – even then – the King was skeptical that Iraqis would greet American soldiers as liberators and he was worried that people were looking at the situation “without understanding the dynamics of Iraqi society.” She says that it now seems all his fears were realized and the war has unleashed the “forces of extremism,” turning Iraq into a “breeding ground for jihadis, Takfiris, and Salafis.” As someone who “initially welcomed any effort that might remove Saddam,” Rana Sabbagh says that unfortunately “the alternative hasn’t been better.”

Israel also supported the U.S.-led campaign to remove Saddam Hussein whom many Israelis initially viewed as a genuine threat, according to Nathan Guttman, Washington bureau chief of the Jerusalem Post. Mr. Guttman says that Israelis are now “more worried about Iran,” and they are concerned that, because the U.S. military is engaged in Iraq, it may not be able to “deal with Iran” in the event of a military conflict.

Douglas Fraser, Scottish political editor of The Herald, agrees with the thrust of the material leaked from the U.S. intelligence estimate suggesting that the war in Iraq has exacerbated the terrorist threat. And he says that British Finance Minister Gordon Brown, considered Prime Minister Tony’s Blair’s “heir apparent,” now admits that not enough preparatory work was done after the invasion. Mr. Fraser adds that British support for the war has cast a “large shadow, almost overwhelming Tony Blair’s government.” The controversy over the correlation between the war in Iraq and the threat of terrorism is likely to influence American politics as well, especially as the November mid-term congressional election approaches, and candidates on both sides are expected to use Iraq as a weapon in their political arsenal.

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