WASHINGTON (AP) – President Bush said Tuesday that critics who believe the Iraq war has worsened terrorism are naive, and he ordered the partial declassification of a high-level intelligence analysis that has stirred heated election-season argument on the subject.

At a White House news conference, Bush acknowledged that the fighting in Iraq has been used as a recruitment tool for extremists – one finding of the intelligence assessment that suggests the Iraq war has nourished terrorists’ ranks.

But he rejected any suggestion that the war was a mistake. “I think it’s naive. I think it’s a mistake for people to believe that going on the offense against people that want to do harm to the American people makes us less safe,” Bush said, standing alongside Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Many Democrats have argued that the U.S. needs to chart a new course to stabilize Iraqi society and eventually shift American military forces away.

After three days of criticism concerning leaked portions of the intelligence analysis, Bush asked National Intelligence Director John Negroponte to declassify key judgments of the assessment from the nation’s top analysts who are spread across 16 different spy agencies.

Democrats saw the conclusions – particularly that the overall terror threat has grown since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 – as political ammunition. Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Carl Levin of Michigan both said release of the key findings alone wouldn’t give Americans enough information, and they accused the administration of selective declassification.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., sought a rare secret session of the House to discuss the report’s classified findings. Her request was rejected – 217-171 – on a nearly straight party-line vote.

Such a session hasn’t occurred in the House since July 1983, when the chamber went into a closed session to discuss U.S. support for paramilitary operations in Nicaragua.

In an interview, Pelosi said the secret session was needed to allow members to better understand the intelligence community’s most recent assessment on global terrorism. Judging by media reports, she said, the intelligence estimate “is the administration’s worst nightmare. It is not a corroboration of what the president is saying. It is a contradiction of what the president is saying.”

In a sometimes-testy exchange with reporters, Bush said the document was leaked “coming right down the stretch in this campaign in order to create confusion in the minds of the American people.”

He rejected the suggestion that his decision to release a version of the report was a political act, as well. “I want you to read the document so you don’t speculate about what it says … as opposed to relying on gossip,” he said.

Bush listed a number of terrorist attacks that predated the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq: the hijackings of Sept. 11, 2001, the 2000 attack on the USS Cole, the 1998 bombings on U.S. embassies in East Africa and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

“To suggest that if we weren’t in Iraq we would see a rosier scenario, with fewer extremists joining the radical movement, requires us to ignore 20 years of experience,” Bush said.

AP-ES-09-26-06 1546EDT

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