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Report finds Iraq prospects bleak

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George W. Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration has sought to downplay the significance of a U.S. intelligence forecast painting a pessimistic picture for the future of Iraq, insisting that predictions of difficulties ahead -- including the possibility of civil war -- were not a surprise.

Sources have confirmed to CNN that a National Intelligence Estimate was sent to the White House in July with a classified warning predicting the best case for Iraq was "tenuous stability" and the worst case was civil war.

The Bush administration, however, continues to argue publicly the U.S. is making good progress in Iraq, with the President saying Thursday that "freedom is on the march" in Iraq, citing scheduled elections in January next year.

But the intelligence report raises serious questions about Iraq's ability to achieve political solutions in the next year or two, noting the country's "limited experience with representative government" and "history of violence".

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in a report to the U.N. Security Council last week, said the persistent violence in Iraq would make it difficult to hold elections in January.

"I think that anybody that thinks that you can hold elections in the Sunni Triangle by the end of January is really smoking something," military historian Frank Fukuyama said.

And the Pentagon also admits the insurgency in Iraq is growing in both size and sophistication, and as a result, the number of U.S. war dead -- now over 1,025 -- is climbing at a faster rate than any time since major combat ended.

Spokesman for the National Security Council, Scott McCormack, Thursday described the report as "more of an academic think piece" than a forecast.

"The functions of these kind of documents and analyses is to lay out the possibilities, the variables that can affect the outcome of various scenarios, both in a positive way and a negative way," he said.

"It's the policymakers' job to write prescriptions to address those problems that are out there."

Democrats seized on news of the gloomy forecast to push their case that the Bush administration policy has gone awry.

Democratic nominee John Kerry accused the President of not leveling with the American people about the situation, telling a National Guard group in Las Vegas that Bush had "ignored" assessments from his own intelligence officials who "have warned him for weeks that the mission in Iraq is in serious trouble."

The 50-page national intelligence estimate on Iraq, completed in July, was not prepared for President Bush but was commissioned internally within the intelligence community. It contains both classified and declassified portions.

A U.S. government official familiar with the report conceded the estimate "does not offer a great deal of optimism" -- and that it concludes the "outlook is not very positive."

A senior Defense Department official said the estimate was "one view," and that it also concluded that "Iraq will be challenged in the next year or two in achieving political solutions."

-- CNN Correspondents Suzanne Malveaux and Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.

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