With President George W. Bush stubbornly clinging to the fantasy that his ill-conceived Iraq war can be won by sending more Americans do their death, the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) paints a grim picture of a deteriorating situation that is beyond the control of U.S. forces.

Even the most pro-war hawk in the Senate, Sen. John McCain, admits the situation in Iraq “can now best be described as dire and deteriorating” and adds that “our window of opportunity to reverse momentum may be closing.”

As Karen DeYoung and Walter Pincus of The Washington Post report:

A long-awaited National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, presented to President Bush by the intelligence community yesterday, outlines an increasingly perilous situation in which the United States has little control and there is a strong possibility of further deterioration, according to sources familiar with the document.

In a discussion of whether Iraq has reached a state of civil war, the 90-page classified NIE comes to no conclusion and holds out prospects of improvement. But it couches glimmers of optimism in deep uncertainty about whether the Iraqi leaders will be able to transcend sectarian interests and fight against extremists, establish effective national institutions and end rampant corruption.

The document emphasizes that although al-Qaeda activities in Iraq remain a problem, they have been surpassed by Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence as the primary source of conflict and the most immediate threat to U.S. goals. Iran, which the administration has charged with supplying and directing Iraqi extremists, is mentioned but is not a focus.

Completion of the estimate, which projects events in Iraq over the next 18 months, comes amid intensifying debate and skepticism on Capitol Hill about the administration’s war policy. In a series of contentious hearings over the past two weeks, legislators have sharply questioned Bush’s new plan for the deployment of 21,500 additional U.S. troops and the administration’s dependence on the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

In acid remarks yesterday to Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the departing U.S. commander in Iraq, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) noted that “things have gotten markedly and progressively worse” during Casey’s 2 1/2 -year tenure, “and the situation in Iraq can now best be described as dire and deteriorating. I regret that our window of opportunity to reverse momentum may be closing.” Casey was appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on his nomination to be Army chief of staff.

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