A new report commissioned by the Pentagon says U.S. led forces risk losing the cooperation of the Iraqi people unless there is rapid progress in restoring security as well as basic services.
The report by a team of private post-conflict reconstruction experts says that because of what are termed a "daunting array" of challenges, the United States needs to be prepared to stay involved in Iraq for several years.
But the report, commissioned by the Defense Department, specifically warns because of high Iraqi expectation, the next three months will be crucial for addressing what is termed the "volatile" security situation.
The document says that despite significant progress in the post-war period, what it terms "the potential for chaos is becoming more real every day" because of the continuing attacks staged by supporters of the former regime of Saddam Hussein.
At the Pentagon Friday, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith characterized the report as serious but admitted not everyone in the Pentagon agrees with its findings.
"Not everyone in the Pentagon or the U.S. government agrees with every factual analysis or judgment or recommendation in the report," he said. "But it is a serious piece of work with lots of good observations and good ideas in it."
Mr. Feith declined to discuss the experts' specific warning about the next three months. Members of the team who appeared at a special Pentagon briefing also declined to elaborate. But one of them, Johanna Mendelson-Forman, suggested resolution of questions about the fate of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is crucial.
"The primary goal right now to gain the confidence of the Iraqi people is that everybody wants to know where Saddam is so they can move on," she said. "We really are in between a reconstruction and the end of a conflictive time and so they need evidence and that period has to have some closure and our sense is three months is probably logical to also implement some of the things we've talked about."
Her comments came as a U.S. intelligence official said a new audiotape purportedly made by Saddam Hussein is probably authentic and probably a recent recording, indicating Saddam survived the war.
An Arab television channel, Al Arabiya, broadcast the tape on Thursday. The voice on the tape urged Iraqis to fight the U.S.-led occupation of the country.
The private experts' report makes a number of recommendations on security issues, calling, for example, for increased street-level visibility of coalition troops, especially in Baghdad.
It also suggests the use of private security forces to guard low-risk installations, freeing up troops for other security assignments.