Outgoing CIA Chief Gives Iraq Assessment

In a farewell assessment of Iraq's security and political situation, the CIA's (search) senior officer there wrote that a stronger government and economy are necessary to avoid descent into wider violence, a U.S. official said Tuesday.

It is critical to have the Sunni population take part in the Jan. 30 election, the officer wrote in a mixed review of the situation, according to the U.S. official.

The official discussed the Baghdad station chief's classified assessment on the condition of anonymity. The chief, whose identity is confidential, is leaving Iraq (search) after completing a scheduled tour, the official said.

The officer's assessment was reported first Tuesday in The New York Times. It was distributed around the U.S. government in late November, the official said.

The good the chief wrote, according to the officer: Iraq's interim government is getting organized and enjoys more legitimacy in the public's eyes than the former U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (search). The assessment also praised the resilience of many Iraqis in the face of the troubles.

The bad: Iraqi security forces, being built to take over security from American U.S. troops, are improving but not quickly enough to keep pace with the increasingly violent insurgency. This, in turn, has prevented the government from projecting authority throughout the country.

A key issue is whether Sunni Muslims will participate in elections. The officer predicted that violence would only increase if they did not.

Arab Sunnis represent one-fifth of Iraq's nearly 26 million people but traditionally have wielded power in the country, especially under President Saddam Hussein, deposed by the U.S. invasion. They fear the election will give Shiite Muslims, with 60 percent of the population, an overpowering grip on power.

U.S. and Iraqi officials worry that a boycott by Sunnis, advocated by several groups representing the sect, would undermine the legitimacy of a new government. The CIA officer says this will lead to increased violence.

John Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, dissented with some aspects of the report and offered a more positive view of Iraqi security forces, the U.S. official said.