A stark assessment of terrorism trends by US intelligence agencies has found that the US invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
The classified National Intelligence Estimate attributes a more direct role to the Iraq war in fueling radicalism than that presented either in recent White House documents or in a report released on Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee, according to several officials in Washington involved in preparing the assessment or who have read the final document.
The intelligence estimate, completed in April, is the first formal appraisal of global terror since the Iraq war began, and represents a consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside government.
Titled Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States, it asserts that Islamic radicalism, rather than being in retreat, has metastasized and is spreading across the globe.
An opening section of the report, "Indicators of the Spread of the Global Jihadist Movement," cites the Iraq war as a driving force for the diffusion of jihad ideology.
The report "says that the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse," one US intelligence official said.
More than a dozen US government officials and outside experts were interviewed for the article. All had either seen the final version of the document or participated in the creation of earlier drafts.
Officials with knowledge of the intelligence estimate said it avoided specific judgments about the likelihood that terrorists would once again strike on US soil.
The relationship between the Iraq war and terrorism, and the question of whether the US is safer, have been subjects of persistent debate since the war began in 2003.
National Intelligence Estimates are the most authoritative documents that the intelligence community produces on a specific national security issue and are approved by US Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte.
Their conclusions are based on analyses of raw intelligence collected by all of the spy agencies.
The estimate concludes that the radical Islamic movement has expanded from a core of al-Qaeda operatives and affiliated groups to include a new class of "self-generating" cells inspired by al-Qaeda's leadership but without any direct connection to Osama bin Laden or his top lieutenants.
The broad judgments of the new intelligence estimate are consistent with assessments of global terrorist threats by US allies and independent terrorism experts.
Documents released by the White House timed to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks emphasized the successes that the US had achieved in dismantling the top tier of al-Qaeda.
"Since the Sept. 11 attacks, America and its allies are safer, but we are not yet safe," concludes one, a report titled 9/11 Five Years Later: Success and Challenges.
"We have done much to degrade al-Qaeda and its affiliates and to undercut the perceived legitimacy of terrorism," is said.
That document makes only passing mention of the impact the Iraq war has had on the global jihad movement.
"The ongoing fight for freedom in Iraq has been twisted by terrorist propaganda as a rallying cry," it states.
The report mentions the possibility that Islamic militants who fought in Iraq could return to their home countries, "exacerbating domestic conflicts or fomenting radical ideologies."
Last Wednesday, the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee released a more ominous report about the terrorist threat.
That assessment, based entirely on unclassified documents, details a growing jihad movement and says that "al-Qaeda leaders wait patiently for the right opportunity to attack."
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