A bleak portrait of the political and security situation in Iraq released Tuesday by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) sparked...
WASHINGTON — A bleak portrait of the political and security situation in Iraq released Tuesday by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) sparked sharp protests from top U.S. military officials in Baghdad, who described it as flawed and “factually incorrect.”
The controversy followed last-minute changes made in the final draft of the report after the Defense Department maintained that its conclusions were too harsh and insisted that some of the information it contained — such as the extent of a fall in the number of Iraqi army units capable of operating without U.S. assistance — should not appear in the final, unclassified version. A draft of the report was leaked to the media last week.
The GAO rejected several changes proposed by the Pentagon and concluded that Iraq had failed to meet 11 of its 18 political, security and economic goals that Congress had set as benchmarks of progress.
However, the study was slightly more upbeat than initially planned. For instance, grades for two of the unmet security benchmarks — the elimination of safe havens for militia forces and the deployment of three Iraqi army brigades to assist the U.S. security plan in Baghdad — were ultimately recast to reflect partial progress.
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The report, published days before the Bush administration’s own progress report on Iraq, said only one of eight political goals — safeguarding minority rights in the Iraqi parliament — had been met. It found little movement on key legislation, including measures to clarify the distribution of oil revenue, schedule provincial elections or change de-Baathification laws.
Fifteen of 37 Cabinet ministers have withdrawn support for the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and serious problems remain in other ministries, said Comptroller General David Walker, who heads the GAO.
“Given the fact that significant progress has not been made in improving the living conditions of the Iraqis on a day-to-day basis with regard to things that all citizens care about — safe streets, clean water, reliable electricity, a variety of other basic things,” he concluded, “I think you’d have to say it’s dysfunctional: The government is dysfunctional.”
“Today’s GAO report confirms that the president’s Iraq strategy is simply not working,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said Pentagon officials had told Republican leaders the GAO had relied on outdated information. He added that lawmakers were far more interested in the assessment coming next week from Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.
Both have recommended that President Bush stand by his current war strategy, and he is unlikely to order more than a symbolic cut in troops before the end of the year, administration officials told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Bush appears set on maintaining the central elements of the policy he announced in January, one senior administration official said after discussions with participants in Bush’s briefings during his surprise visit to an air base in Iraq on Monday.
Although the addition of 30,000 troops and the focus on increasing security in Baghdad would not be permanent, Bush is inclined to give it more time in hopes of extending military gains in Baghdad and the formerly restive Anbar province, officials said.
But while Republican leaders on Tuesday suggested the GOP may be willing to support keeping troops in the region through spring, it is unclear whether rank-and-file party members who face tough elections will be willing to follow their lead.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said he would like to ensure a long-term U.S. presence in the Middle East to fight al-Qaida and deter aggression from Iran.
Bush himself suggested that modest troop cuts may be possible if military successes continue, but he gave no timeline or specific numbers. Options beyond a symbolic cut this year include cutting the tour of duty for troops in Iraq from 15 months back to the traditional 12 months, one official said. If adopted, that change would not come before the spring.
Bush’s troop increase will end by default in April or May, when one of the added brigades is scheduled to leave, unless Bush makes other changes to hold the number steady.
In an interview with ABC News, Petraeus suggested a drawdown next spring would be needed to avoid further strain on the military. Asked if March would be that time, he said, “Your calculations are about right.”
Six House Republicans and five Democrats released a letter Tuesday to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, asking them “to put an end to the political infighting over the war in Iraq and allow the House to unite behind a bipartisan strategy to stabilize the country and bring our troops home.”
Breaking with the GOP leadership, the Republicans — Reps. Michael Castle of Delaware; Scott Garrett of New Jersey; Phil English, Jim Gerlach and Charles Dent of Pennsylvania; and Thomas Petri of Wisconsin — said they saw no reason to wait for testimony by Petraeus and Crocker.
Another version of the letter circulating on Capitol Hill would demand a House vote on bipartisan legislation that would give the president 60 days to present to Congress a plan to begin withdrawing troops.
Overall, the GAO report concluded that all forms of violence remain high in Iraq — causing senior military officials to complain that the report did consider statistics for the month of August, when they said trends in sectarian violence and the performance of the Iraqi security forces improved.
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.