A new problematic National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq surfaces. The Washington Post reports that this NIE, "presented to [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… 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."
NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reports that per a senior Administration official, "The underlying intel that went into the development of the NIE was also used to make decisions for the President's new strategy. It paints a picture of a very serious and complex situation on the ground and says that if action is not taken or there is rapid withdrawal, Iraq would deteriorate faster. And that's why the President changed strategy." Another senior Administration official tells O'Donnell, "We've been clear the situation in Iraq is very serious, and the President concluded after an exhaustive review that the best way to improve the situation is to help the Iraqis secure Baghdad so that the political situation can get resolved as well."
The Hill reports that the Congressional Budget Office is predicting that Bush's troop increase "may require more soldiers to go to Iraq than the White House is saying publicly. In a letter sent to House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-S.C.) Thursday, CBO said the Pentagon so far has only announced which combat units would be part of the surge." The CBO thinks it could wind up being anywhere from 35,000 to 48,000, total.
We now have a single resolution and a date: The sponsors of the original non-binding resolution opposing a US troop increase in Iraq have thrown their support behind a slightly revised version pushed by GOP Sen. John Warner, increasing the odds that the remaining resolution will get the necessary 60 votes. Still, NBC's Ken Strickland advises, it's not clear that supporters can get to 60. Not all Democrats necessarily will support it, Strickland says -- especially those on the far left who've called for stronger, binding bills. Sen. Russ Feingold (D), who wants troops redeployed within six months, calls the measure "weak." Debate is expected to start on Monday, but the terms (duration, etc.) have not yet been set.
The Los Angeles Times says the debate, which will begin on Monday, could well boil down to the Warner measure versus GOP Sen. John McCain's measure that supports a troop increase but calls for 11 benchmarks to be set and met by Iraqis.
McCain yesterday also offered an extremely rare reprimand of a four-star general in expressing his "serious concerns" about Gen. George Casey's nomination to be the Army chief of staff, NBC's Courtney Kube reports. Still, she reports, both US military and congressional sources still believe that Casey will survive the process and be confirmed.
USA Today notes that Bush's visit with Senate Republicans today could be awkward given how a number of them support the Warner resolution. "At least seven of the 20 Republican senators due to face the voters next year already are on record expressing misgivings about the president's planned troop increase."
But Republicans aren't the only house divided. The New York Times notes that at least two Senate Democrats, Chris Dodd and Russ Feingold, said yesterday they would oppose the compromise non-binding resolution because it says Congress should not reduce funding for the US soldiers in the field.
Bloomberg says Bush's expected $716 billion request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the greater war on terror "may set up a fight with the Democratic Congress, keen to examine the budget for questionable spending… Previous emergency wartime requests have been readily approved because Congress was eager to support U.S. troops at war."