Iraq has 'shaped terrorist leaders'

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The Iraq insurgency is "shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives," US intelligence chiefs have warned, as the three-and-a-half-year-old war has turned into a "cause célèbre" for jihadists around the world.

In a largely bleak assessment of the terrorist threat to the US, they conclude that, in the near term at least, the danger is likely to grow rather than diminish. Four factors are fuelling the spread of the movement: "entrenched grievances such as injustice and fear of the West, the Iraq 'jihad', the slow pace of real ... reform in many Muslim nations, and pervasive anti-American sentiment among most Moslems - all of which the jihadists exploit."

These are the most striking findings of the National Intelligence Estimate on global terrorism trends, leaked to some US newspapers at the weekend, and declassified in part yesterday on the orders of President Bush.

An NIE is the most authoritative US intelligence document, being the distilled wisdom of all 16 US intelligence agencies. This one, however, made public six weeks before mid-term elections, is especially sensitive.