Congressional auditors have determined that the Iraqi government failed to meet all but three of 18 benchmarks for political and military...
WASHINGTON — Congressional auditors have determined that the Iraqi government failed to meet all but three of 18 benchmarks for political and military progress that were laid out by lawmakers.
A draft of a Government Accountability Office report also questions whether some aspects of a more positive assessment by the White House last month adequately reflected the range of views the GAO found within the administration.
The strikingly negative draft from the GAO, a nonpartisan agency that has had far more experience in Iraq than other independent panels that have weighed in, will be delivered to Congress in final form on Tuesday. It comes as the White House prepares to deliver its own new benchmarks report the second week of September, along with congressional testimony from Gen. David Petraeus — the U.S. commander in Iraq — and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. They are expected to describe significant security improvements and offer at least some promise for political reconciliation in Iraq.
The draft harshly assesses the tactical effects of the U.S.-led counteroffensive to secure Baghdad. “While the Baghdad security plan was intended to reduce sectarian violence, U.S. agencies differ on whether such violence has been reduced,” it states.
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While there have been fewer attacks against U.S. forces, it notes, the number of attacks against Iraqi civilians remains unchanged. It also finds that “the capabilities of Iraqi security forces have not improved.”
“Overall,” the report concludes, “key legislation has not been passed, violence remains high, and it is unclear whether the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion in reconstruction funds” as promised. While it makes no policy recommendations, the draft suggests that future administration assessments “would be more useful” if they backed up judgments with more details and “provided data on broader measures of violence from all relevant U.S. agencies.”
A GAO spokesman declined to comment on the report before it is released. The 69-page draft, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, is undergoing review at the Defense Department, which may ask that parts of it be classified or request changes in its conclusions. The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, normally submits its draft reports to relevant agencies for comment but makes its own final judgments. The office has published more than 100 assessments of all aspects of the U.S. effort in Iraq since May 2003.
The 15-person team includes specialists, lawyers, economists, foreign-policy experts and statisticians. Most have been working on Iraq since the first GAO reports were mandated in 2003.
The person who provided the draft report to The Post said it was being conveyed from a government official who feared that its pessimistic conclusions would be watered down in the final version — as some officials have said happened with security judgments in this month’s National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq. Congress requested the GAO report, along with an assessment of the Iraqi security forces by an independent commission headed by retired Marine Gen. James Jones, to provide a basis for comparison with the administration’s scorecard. The Jones report is also scheduled for delivery next week.
Asked to comment on the GAO draft, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said that “General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker are there on the ground every day in Iraq, and it’s important to wait to hear what they have to say.” He disputed any suggestion that the July White House assessment did not consider all internal views, noting that it resulted from “a lengthy and far-reaching process throughout the State and Defense departments and other agencies.”
Johndroe said that “while we’ve all seen progress in some areas, especially on the security front, it’s not surprising the GAO would make this assessment, given the difficult congressionally mandated measurement they had to follow.”
President Bush signed legislation in May that requires him to submit by Sept. 15 an assessment of whether the government of Iraq is “achieving progress” toward the benchmarks. The interim July report determined that satisfactory progress was being made toward eight of the 18 benchmarks, most of them on the security front. It found unsatisfactory progress toward eight others and presented a mixed picture on the remaining two.
The May legislation imposed a stricter standard on the GAO, requiring an up-or-down judgment on whether each benchmark has been met. On that basis, the GAO draft found that three of the benchmarks have been met, while 13 have not. Despite its strict mandate, the GAO draft concludes that two benchmarks — the formation of governmental regions and the allocation and expenditure of $10 billion for reconstruction — have been “partially met.” Little of the allocated money, it said, has been spent.
One of eight political benchmarks — protection of the rights of minority Iraqi political parties — has been achieved, according to the draft. On the others, including legislation on constitutional reform, new oil laws and de-Baathification, it assesses failure.
The report says the withdrawal of 15 of the Iraqi cabinet’s 37 members hurt the prospects of success for the other political benchmarks. An internal administration assessment this month, the GAO says, concluded that “this boycott ends any claim by the Shiite-dominated coalition to be a government of national unity.”
An administration official involved in Iraq policy said that is an accurate reflection of the views of many officials.
Overall, the draft report finds that the Iraqi government has met two of nine security benchmarks. It contradicts the Bush administration’s conclusion in July that sectarian violence was decreasing as a result of the U.S. military’s stepped-up operations in Baghdad this year. “The average number of daily attacks against civilians remained about the same over the last six months; 25 in February versus 26 in July,” the GAO draft says.
Iraqi security forces also are assessed more severely in the GAO study than in the administration’s July report. Although the White House found satisfactory progress toward the goal of deploying three Iraqi army brigades in Baghdad, the GAO disagrees, citing “performance problems” in some units.
The GAO draft also says the number of Iraqi army units capable of operating independently declined from 10 in March to six last month. In July, the White House report mentioned a “slight” decline in capable Iraqi units, without providing any numbers.
The GAO also found, as did the White House in July, that the Iraqi government has intervened in military activities for political reasons, “resulting in some operations being based on sectarian interests.”
The description of the Iraqi military’s shortcomings contrasts with comments from many senior U.S. commanders who say they are pleased with its progress. “Although we still have a ways to go, Iraqi security forces are making significant, tangible improvements,” Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, said earlier this month.
However, Army Lt. Gen. James Dubik, who in June became the commander of the U.S. troops training and advising Iraqi army and police units, struck a more somber note Wednesday in a Baghdad news conference. “The problems that the military commanders and the minister of defense have here in generating the Iraqi army are very significant, and they shouldn’t be taken lightly,” he said.
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.