American fears over Iranian 'threat'

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Concern, especially among Republicans, is growing over a possible intelligence failure on Iran that could rival the one on Iraq but they fear this time Washington may be underestimating, not exaggerating, the threat.

A Republican-led House Intelligence committee report depicts the Islamic regime in Tehran as a mounting danger. It complains that US spy agencies, chastened by the debacle over Saddam Hussein's non-existent weapons of mass destruction, may by adopting an over-cautious view of Iran's presumed drive to acquire nuclear weapons, and of its backing of the Hizbollah in Lebanon.

"Intelligence community managers and analysts ... must not shy away from provocative conclusions or bury disagreements in consensus assessments," the report says, adding that the CIA and other agencies still "do not know nearly enough" about Tehran's nuclear plans, and the state of its chemical and biological weapon programmes.

The document was written by a Republican staff member of the committee who once worked for the John Bolton, the hardline US ambassador to the United Nations, who believes that Washington should address the Iranian challenge head-on.