Saturday, December 2, 2006

Spy Chief Cites Perils in Iraq: Worse Than Vietnam

- By KATHERINE SHRADER, Associated Press Writer
Friday, December 1, 2006

(12-01) 12:50 PST WASHINGTON, (AP) --

National Intelligence Director John Negroponte says Iraq is far more precarious than much of Vietnam was when he served as a U.S. diplomat there in the 1960s.

An expert on Vietnam and one-time adviser to former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Negroponte said he sees more differences than similarities between the two conflicts. In Vietnam, for example, there was a clear enemy, given Soviet support of the North Vietnamese.

Additionally, "in Vietnam, the cities were secure. The province capitals were secure. I walked around that country as an unarmed civilian for almost four years without ever having any serious brushes," said Negroponte, who served in the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. "In Iraq, even the capital is highly insecure — perhaps one of the most insecure places in the country."

Negroponte made the remarks in a wide-ranging interview that airs Sunday evening on C-SPAN's "Q&A" program. A transcript was made available to The Associated Press.

Negroponte took over as the nation's top intelligence official last year, assuming a post created to unify the 16 intelligence agencies. He indicated in the interview that he wants to stay on through the Bush administration. Many associates have expected Negroponte to return to his diplomatic roots, perhaps serving as deputy secretary of State, a position open since July.

His answer to the question — will he "stay with it for a while?" — didn't completely close to door to a new assignment. "In my own mind at least, I visualize staying with it through the end of this administration and, then I think, probably that'll be about the right time to pack it in," he said.

Negroponte, who also is a former U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, said Iraqis must take more responsibility for their security and defense. The key, he said, is Baghdad, where the violence is greatest. His comments closely tracked the conclusions of an independent group led by former Secretary of State James Baker that is advising the administration as it redraws its Iraq policy.

"This has really got to become more and more of an Iraqi problem, and less and less of a U.S. one," he said. "I would hope that our forces can take more of a support role and a training role, and fall more into the background rather than being in the lead in the months ahead."

Negroponte said he wasn't certain of the impact should an Iraq court follow through with its Nov. 5 sentence to hang former dictator Saddam Hussein for ordering the execution of nearly 150 Shiite Muslims. The sentence triggered an automatic appeal.

"There are a lot of the Iraqis that want some kind of closure in this situation," Negroponte said. "There are probably also some insurgents, some Sunni extremist insurgents, who are fighting in the belief that — under the illusion that — they may be fighting to bring Mr. Saddam back to power, so it could have the effect of actually discouraging some of the Sunni extremists."

Negroponte voiced one regret about the nine months he served as ambassador to Iraq: that the United States wasn't able to convince Sunni politicians to scrap their boycott of the January 2005 elections. "I think that that was a real setback for the political process," he said.


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