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Intelligence Officials: Iraq Violence in Self-Sustaining Cycle

27 February 2007

Top U.S. intelligence officials Tuesday offered a sober assessment of the prospects for ending sectarian violence in Iraq and establishing a unity government there. They made their comments in testimony before a Senate panel, as VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

In his first appearance before a congressional committee since being sworn in as National Intelligence Director earlier this month, retired Navy Vice Admiral John M. (Mike) McConnell expressed concern about the willingness of Iraq's Shi'ia majority and Sunni minority to make the compromises necessary to forge a unity government.

"The Shi'ias, in my view, are not confident of their position in the majority and are worried that the Sunnis may come back and dominate the country," said Mr. McConnell. "The Sunnis, in fact, are not yet willing to admit that they are no longer in charge and are going to be hard-pressed to meet an agreement in a government of reconciliation."

McConnell testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, along with the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Army Lieutenant General Michael Maples.

Maples said the Sunni-based insurgency remains fundamentally strong, adaptable and capable, despite ongoing security operations and some improvements in the Iraqi security forces. He offered a sober assessment of the situation:

"The perception of unchecked violence is creating an atmosphere of fear, hardening sectarianism, empowering militias and vigilante groups, and undermining the confidence in government and security forces," he said. "Conflict in Iraq is in a self-sustaining cycle, in which violent acts increasingly generate retaliation. Insecurity rationalizes and justifies militias, in particular Shi'ia militias, which increase fears in the Sunni-Arab community. The result is additional support or at least acquiescence to insurgents and terrorists, such as al-Qaida in Iraq."

Maples said it is to soon to assess the impact of a new security plan put in place in Baghdad, supported by thousands of additional U.S. troops.

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