WASHINGTON (Reuters) -
President George W. Bush blasted political opponents on Tuesday for selectively leaking from a secret intelligence assessment on global terrorism and then made public the report's main conclusion that the
Iraq war had become a "cause celebre" for Islamic extremists.
Democrats had seized on leaked portions of the National Intelligence Estimate to criticize the administration's handling of the Iraq war and members of the U.S. Congress had pressed the White House to declassify the entire document.
At a news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Bush said it was "a bad habit for our government to declassify every time there's a leak."
But he said he decided to make it public so "you can read it for yourself" and stop the speculation that he said was aimed at confusing the American public.
"Somebody has taken it upon themselves to leak classified information for political purposes," Bush said.
The office of intelligence director John Negroponte released a 3-1/2 page section of the April report "Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States" compiled by the 16 U.S. spy agencies hours after Bush ordered it declassified.
"The Iraq conflict has become the 'cause celebre' for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement," the report said.
"Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight."
Democrats, hoping to take control of Congress in November elections, pounced on media leaks about the report as evidence that Bush's Iraq policy had worsened the global terrorism threat.
Bush is intent on portraying his Republican party as stronger on national security than Democrats and better able to protect Americans.
The report said al Qaeda would continue to pose "the greatest threat" to the United States by a single group.
It said there was a large body of information indicating that activists identifying themselves as jihadists were increasing in number and geographic dispersion.
White House homeland security adviser Frances Townsend said that estimate came in part from reviewing the increasing number of hostile Internet postings.
"If this trend continues, threats to U.S. interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide," the report said.
Bush agreed with the report's conclusion that successes against the al Qaeda leadership had led to extremists "becoming more diffuse and independent" and that they were using Iraq as a recruiting tool.
But, he strongly disagreed with critics conclusions that the Iraq war was a mistake. "I think it's naive," he said.
Bush insists his decision to invade Iraq was necessary to deal with a potential threat. But the American public has become increasingly weary of the war in which about 2,700 U.S. troops have died and sectarian violence is rampant.
Democrats said the report supported their view that the administration's Iraq policies were a failure.
"The Bush administration's failed policies in Iraq are fueling global terrorism and making America less safe," said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
"These results are the unfortunate consequences of the administration's decision to cherry pick prewar intelligence, ignore our senior military leaders, and completely fail to plan for the post-Saddam occupation."
Townsend defended the decision not to release the whole document, saying the few key judgments held back "go directly to national security concerns" and there were fears about disclosing sources and methods.