The CIA station chief in Baghdad has sent a pessimistic end-of-tour assessment about Iraq, according to the New York Times.
By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs correspondent, BBC News website
Attacks on Iraqi police happen daily
The report will not only add to the current sense of gloom about events in Iraq but will puncture some of the probably unrealistic optimism that the elections next month will prove to be a decisive turning point.
The policy of establishing order in Iraq by suppressing the insurgency while developing politics might now have to be seen in a much longer time frame.
The CIA station chief's report, the New York Times says, presented a "bleak" and "unvarnished" assessment.
The security situation was "likely to get worse" - the paper quoted officials who have seen the report as saying - unless there were "marked improvements soon on the part of the Iraqi government, in terms of its ability to assert authority and to build the economy."
The US ambassador in Iraq, John Negroponte, is said to have added a written note of dissent remarking that the finding was too harsh and that progress was being made.
The problem at the moment is that the strategy of relying on Iraq security forces has so far not been effective.
Back to basics
US troops have had, more than 18 months after President Bush announced the end of major combat operations, to mount a major operation in Falluja.
And, far from being able to withdraw to barracks while the Iraqi police and National Guard do the job, US troops are doing street to street, house to house patrols of the most basic kind.
It has been an unhappy return to urban warfare for US troops in Mosul
Whatever the arguments about the rights and wrongs of embedding reporters with US units, these reporters can at least use their eyes.
One reported from Mosul where many of the police melted away last month after coming under attack:
"US forces had wanted to take a back seat in policing and controlling this city. They wanted Iraqi forces to do the job themselves.
"But the insurgents have attacked and the strategy hasn't worked.
So the US army has had to move back into the front seat."
Iraq watcher Toby Dodge of Queen Mary College at the University of London -- who correctly predicted that the interim government would not make things better -- said: "The CIA has called it correctly. It has been less swayed than the politically driven Pentagon.
"To stand up a police force in the middle of an insurgency and expect it to work was optimism to the point of recklessness.
"With Iraqi forces too weak and US forces too resented there is a continuing security vacuum.
"The policy has been naive and simplistic from the start and the elections will not solve it.
"This is a decade long thing at least, if the Americans even stay the course."
Security problems have led the commander of US forces in Iraq General John Abizaid to call for 15,000 reinforcements to bring his troops up to 150,000 in time for the elections at the end of January.
He has also spoken of trying to reshape US forces next year, away from combat duties to training and helping the Iraqis more.
But that was supposed to be the strategy for this year.
And it all depends on those Iraqi forces being effective.
"We can't predict what's going to happen after the elections," the general said.
"But if the circumstances are such that, as in Afghanistan, the political
process leads to better security... and if the Iraqi security
forces start to gel in terms of leadership and seasoning in
important areas around the country - which I think will happen
- then we can talk about reshaping our forces."
Facts behind figures
Some of the best analysis on the Iraqi security forces comes from the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Winning the peace is proving harder than expected
Its leading Iraq security expert Anthony Cordesman regularly pours doses of cold water on the statistics issued by the Pentagon which appear to show rapid progress in the build-up of local Iraqi forces.
In his latest assessment, he points out that the Pentagon has stopped issuing data about equipment shortages and deliveries. The last set of such figures - in September - showed, for example, that the National Guard was short of almost half its required weapons and about two thirds of its vehicles and body armour.
However, the latest figures, for November, still show what the problem is. The numbers are well short of eventual establishments.
Looking into the future
Police strength is put at 87,133, but only 47,342 are said to be "on duty, trained and equipped." There is no explanation of the discrepancy. Presumably some are still being trained. But the figures also say nothing about how many have deserted, let alone how many are not that useful.
The National Guard is doing better with 41,409 on duty out of a current strength of 43,318.
And there are signs that specialised units are being built up as a way of tackling the insurgents more directly.
Anthony Cordesman sums up: "The odds of lasting US success in Iraq are now at best even, and may well be worse.
"US success is heavily dependent on two variables which the US can influence but not control. The first is the emergence of a government that Iraqis see as legitimate and which can effectively govern. The second is the ability to create Iraqi military and security forces that can largely replace US and other coalition forces no later than 2006".