- CIA officers in Iraq are warning that the
country may be on a path to civil war, current
and former U.S. officials said yesterday,
starkly contradicting the upbeat assessment
President Bush gave in his State of the Union
CIA officers' bleak assessment was delivered
orally to Washington this week, said the officials,
who spoke on condition of anonymity because
of the classified information involved.
warning echoed growing fears that Iraq's Shiite
majority, which until now has accepted the
U.S. occupation grudgingly, could turn to
violence if its demands for direct elections
Iraq's Kurdish minority is pressing for autonomy
and shares of oil revenue.
the Shiites and the Kurds think that now's
their time," one intelligence officer
said. "They think that if they don't
get what they want now, they'll probably never
get it. Both of them feel they've been betrayed
by the United States before."
dire scenarios were discussed at meetings
this week by Bush, his top national-security
aides and the chief U.S. administrator in
Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, said a senior administration
official who requested anonymity.
senior official said the concerns over a possible
civil war are "broadly held within the
government," including by regional experts
at the State Department and National Security
officials are scrambling to save the U.S.
exit strategy after concluding Iraq's most
powerful Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali
al-Husseini al-Sistani, is unlikely to drop
his demand for elections for an interim assembly
that would choose an interim government by
July 1. Bremer then would hand over power
to the interim government.
CIA hasn't put its officers' warnings about
a potential Iraqi civil war in writing, but
the senior official said he expected a formal
the discussion with Bremer in the last few
days, several very bad possibilities have
been outlined," he said.
in his State of the Union address Tuesday,
insisted an insurgency against the U.S. occupation,
conducted primarily by minority Sunni Muslims
who enjoyed power under Saddam Hussein, "will
fail, and the Iraqi people will live in freedom."
by month, Iraqis are assuming more responsibility
for their own security and their own future,"
the president said.
didn't address the Shiites' political demands
who dominate the regions from Baghdad south
to Kuwait and Iran, make up about 60 percent
of Iraq's 25 million people.
U.S. officials acknowledged al-Sistani is
unlikely to be "rolled," as one
put it. As a result, Bremer's plan for restoring
Iraqi sovereignty and ending the U.S. occupation
by on schedule is in peril.
Bremer plan, negotiated with the U.S.-installed
Iraqi Governing Council, calls for caucuses
in Iraq's 18 provinces to choose the interim
national assembly, which in turn would select
Iraq's first post-Saddam government. The first
direct elections wouldn't be held until the
end of 2005.
an interview with Knight Ridder yesterday,
a top cleric in the Shiite holy city of Najaf
appeared to confirm the fears of potential
civil war. "Everything has its own time,
but we are saying that we don't accept the
occupiers getting involved with the Iraqis'
affairs," said Sheikh Ali Najafi, whose
father, Grand Ayatollah Bashir al Najafi,
is, along with al-Sistani, one of the four
most senior clerics. "I don't trust the
Americans, not even for one blink."
the United States went ahead with the caucus
plan and ended the military occupation, the
interim government wouldn't last, he said.
Iraqi people would know how to deal with those
people," he said, smiling. "They
would kick them out."
and British officials hinted yesterday that
they might bow to the demand for some kind
of elections, after saying for weeks that
holding free and fair elections in time for
the handover of sovereignty would be impossible.
always favored elections," Defense Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld said after he and other top
Bush aides briefed senators. "The only
question is ÷ the tension was, if your
goal is to get sovereignty passed to the Iraqis
so that they feel they have a stake in their
future, can you do it faster with caucuses
or can you do it faster with elections?"
was responding to comments by British Foreign
Secretary Jack Straw, who opened the door
yesterday to elections in Iraq earlier than
discussion, which has been stimulated by Ayatollah
Sistani, is whether there could be an element
of elections injected into the earlier part
of the process," Straw said at the World
Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. "We
have to work with great respect for him and
similar leaders. We want elections as soon
as it is feasible to hold them."
Department officials said no changes to the
Bremer plan are being considered formally.
They said much depends on the findings of
a U.N. assessment team that the Bush administration
has asked U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan
to send to examine the feasibility of elections.
option being discussed informally is to delay
the transfer of power until later in 2004,
which might give the United Nations time to
organize some sort of elections, one official
said. But that is almost certain to be opposed
by White House political aides who want the
occupation over and many U.S. troops gone
by summer to bolster Bush's re-election chances,
the official said. "It's all politics
right now," he said.
options are to go ahead with the June 30 turnover
as planned, whatever the fallout, or to accelerate
it by handing over power to the Iraqi Governing
Council in March or April, he said.
Ridder Newspapers correspondents Tom Lasseter
in Najaf, Iraq, and Joseph L. Galloway and
John Walcott in Washington contributed to
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