A potential civil war in Iraq would constitute a "serious setback" to the U.S.-led global campaign on terrorism, chief of the U.S. intelligence said Tuesday.
"The consequences (of a civil war) for the people of Iraq would be catastrophic," John Negroponte, director of national intelligence, said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
A civil war in Iraq would jeopardize "the democratic political process on which they are presently embarked," said Negroponte, who served as U.S. ambassador to Iraq before becoming the country's first national intelligence director in April last year.
Negroponte warned that "if chaos were to descend upon Iraq or the forces of democracy were to be defeated in that country," it would have implications for the rest of the Middle East region and the world.
Defense Intelligence Agency Director Michael Maples, the military's chief intelligence officer, said at the hearing that Iraq has not been plunged into a civil war.
The situation in Iraq however was "very tenuous" and more attacks would have a very significant impact, he said.
"I think that more violence, were it to occur, were it to be stimulated by al-Qaida in Iraq, would have a very significant impact on the situation in Iraq," he said.
Maples and Negroponte said Iraq's political and religious leaders have tried to prevent a full blown civil war, and the formation of an inclusive national unity government was a key means of easing the violence in Iraq.
"They don't want to fall down that precipice, so they are struggling to avoid that," said Negroponte.
Maples also said at the hearing that despite progress made by the Afghan government in disarming private militia, violence from the Taliban and other anti-coalition groups in Afghanistan increased by 20 percent last year.
In his written testimony, Maples said his agency estimated that insurgents represented a greater threat to the expansion of Afghan government authority than at any point since late 2001, and would be active this spring.