By JIM ABRAMS
A Senate analysis of intelligence-gathering activities leading up to the invasion of Iraq is certain to rekindle an election-year debate on the justification of going to war.
The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, said the report will confirm that "the Bush administration’s case for war in Iraq was fundamentally misleading."
The report to be released by the committee Friday focuses on two much-studied issues: the influence of the anti-Saddam exile group Iraqi National Congress in shaping U.S. intelligence estimates, and a comparison of prewar estimates and postwar findings about Iraq’s weapons programs and links to terrorism.
But its release comes at a time when President Bush is speaking out on the importance of victory in Iraq to the war on terrorism, and Democrats are trying to recapture control of Congress by emphasizing the failings of the president’s Iraq policy.
Republicans on the committee declined comment on the report Thursday, but they were expected to play down the role of the Iraqi National Congress and its leader, Ahmed Chalabi, in shaping U.S. policy toward Saddam Hussein and the decision to go to war in March 2003.
The intelligence committee issued a portion of its analysis, labeled Phase I, on prewar intelligence shortcomings in July 2004. But concluding work on Phase II of the study has been more problematic, because of partisan divisions over how senior policymakers used intelligence in arguing for the need to drive Saddam from power.
Last November, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada forced the Senate into a rare closed-door session to discuss the delay in coming out with the new data.
The 400-page report to be released Friday covers only two of the five topics outlined under Phase II. Much of the information — on the intelligence supplied by the INC and Chalabi and the overestimation of Saddam’s WMD threat — has been documented in numerous studies.
But Rockefeller said the report would show how the "administration pursued a deceptive strategy, abusing intelligence reporting that the intelligence community had already warned was uncorroborated, unreliable and in some critical circumstances fabricated."
Rockefeller said a third segment, on the prewar intelligence assessment of postwar Iraq, could be issued later this month. But there was no set date for issuing the last two parts of Phase II, including a look at the politically divisive issue of whether policymakers manipulated intelligence reports to set the stage for war.
"We continue our work on the remaining part of our Phase II inquiry," said Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan.
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