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The Washington Post

US Officials Lean Toward Keeping Iraq Report Quiet

Walter Pincus and Karen DeYoung

WASHINGTON - A new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq is scheduled to be completed this month, according to US intelligence officials. But leaders of the intelligence community have not decided whether to make its key judgments public, a step that caused an uproar when key judgments in an NIE about Iran were released in November.0307 02

The classified estimate on Iraq is intended as an update of last summer's assessment, which predicted modest security improvements but an increasingly precarious political situation there, the US officials said.It is meant to be delivered to Congress before testimony in early April by Army General David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq, and US Ambassador Ryan Crocker, according to a letter sent last week by Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell to Senator John Warner, Republican of Virginia.

Since the Iraq invasion in 2003, the intelligence community has been more cautious than the military and the White House in assessing political, economic, and security gains in Iraq. And the war's progress has been a prominent issue in the presidential campaign.

In his letter to Warner, McConnell said that separate estimates are also being prepared on the "terrorist threat to the homeland" - focusing on Al Qaeda and Pakistan - and on "the tactical and longer-term security and political outlook for Afghanistan." Both are scheduled for publication by early fall.

Warner requested all three estimates in January, describing them as key to upcoming policy discussions in Congress.

Intelligence officials said that the National Intelligence Board - made up of the heads of the 16 intelligence agencies plus McConnell - will decide whether to release the Iraq judgments once the estimate is completed. But they made clear that they lean toward a return to the traditional practice of keeping such documents secret.

In internal guidance he issued in October, McConnell said that his policy was that they "should not be declassified." One month later, however, the intelligence board decided to publicly release key judgments from an NIE on Iran's nuclear weapons program, saying that it had weighed "the importance of the information to open discussions about our national security against the necessity to protect classified information."

© 2008 The Washington Post

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