Image: Jim Miklasszewski
By Jim Miklaszewski Chief Pentagon correspondent
NBC News
updated 9/16/2004 7:48:51 PM ET 2004-09-16T23:48:51

Along with a recent spike in deadly violence in Iraq, a classified U.S. government report paints a bleak picture of Iraq's immediate future.

As first reported by The New York Times, the 50-page report, called a National Intelligence Estimate, and prepared by the CIA's in-house think tank, warns that the worst-case scenario over the next year is that Iraq could collapse into civil war.

Specifically, NBC News has learned that the report says there's still a danger long-standing rivalries between Sunnis and Shiites could erupt into civil war and that continued attacks on oil pipelines and infrastructure seriously threaten any chance for economic improvement — which is absolutely critical to Iraq's success.

"The challenge to provide security is a bigger challenge, it seems, each and every day," says Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee.

The report also points out shortcomings in the Iraqi government itself — that the lack of experience in representative government is hampering efforts to create an Iraqi democracy and that any long-term political solution free of religious involvement will be difficult.

Bush administration officials say they're fully aware of the dangers and are working with the Iraqi government to overcome them.

But some lawmakers accuse the administration of glossing over the threats.

"I am not going to be any part any more of remaining silent while misleading assertions about the state of affairs in Iraq continue to persist," says Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del.

But this latest government report predicts that even the best-case scenario for Iraq isn’t that good — another year of instability, at about the same level of violence seen today.

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