U.S. intelligence agencies repeatedly warned the White House beginning more than two years ago that the insurgency in Iraq had deep local roots, was likely to worsen and could lead to civil war, according to former senior intelligence officials who helped craft the reports.
Among the warnings, Knight Ridder has learned, was a major study, called a National Intelligence Estimate, completed in October 2003 that concluded that the insurgency was fueled by local conditions - not foreign terrorists - and drew strength from deep grievances, including the presence of U.S. troops.
The existence of the top-secret document, which was the subject of a bitter three-month debate among U.S. intelligence agencies, has not been previously disclosed to a wide public audience.
The reports received a cool reception from Bush administration policymakers at the White House and the office of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, according to the former officials, who discussed them publicly for the first time.
President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld and others continued to describe the insurgency as a containable threat, posed mainly by former supporters of Saddam Hussein, criminals and non-Iraqi terrorists - even as the U.S. intelligence community was warning otherwise.
Robert Hutchings, the chairman of the National Intelligence Council from 2003 to 2005, said the October 2003 study was part of a "steady stream" of dozens of intelligence reports warning Bush and his top lieutenants that the insurgency was intensifying and expanding.
"Frankly, senior officials simply weren't ready to pay attention to analysis that didn't conform to their own optimistic scenarios," Hutchings said in a telephone interview.
The office of Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte declined Tuesday to comment for this article.