Thursday, August 30, 2007; Page A01
Iraq has failed to meet all but three of 18 congressionally mandated benchmarks for political and military progress, according to a draft of a Government Accountability Office report. The document 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 GAO draft, which will be delivered to Congress in final form on Tuesday, comes as the White House prepares to deliver its own new benchmark report in the second week of September, along with congressional testimony from Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker. They are expected to describe significant security improvements and offer at least some promise for political reconciliation in Iraq.
The draft provides a stark assessment of the tactical effects of the current 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. 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 their 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 still 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 various aspects of the U.S. effort in Iraq since May 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 L. 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, "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 emphasized 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 says 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 says, has been spent.
One of eight political benchmarks -- the protection of the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature -- has been achieved, according to the draft. On the others, including legislation on constitutional reform, new oil laws and de-Baathification, it assesses failure.
"Prospects for additional progress in enacting legislative benchmarks have been complicated by the withdrawal of 15 of 37 members of the Iraqi cabinet," it says. An internal administration assessment this month, the GAO says, concluded that "this boycott ends any claim by the Shi'ite-dominated coalition to be a government of national unity." An administration official involved in Iraq policy said that he did not know what specific interagency document the GAO was citing but noted that it is an accurate reflection of the views of many officials.
Overall, the draft report, titled "Securing, Stabilizing and Rebuilding Iraq," says that the Iraqi government has met only two 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 states.
Iraqi security forces are also 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. "Some army units sent to Baghdad have mixed loyalties, and some have had ties to Shiia militias making it difficult to target Shiia extremist networks," it says.
The GAO draft also says that the number of Iraqi army units capable of operating independently declined from 10 in March to six last month. The July White House report mentioned a "slight" decline in capable Iraqi units, without providing any numbers. The GAO also says, 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." But its discussion of Iraqi security forces is often veiled, as when it states that the determination that the security forces benchmark was not met "was based largely on classified information."
The description of the Iraqi military's shortcomings contrasts with comments from many senior U.S. commanders who say that they are pleased with its progress. "Although we still have a ways to go, Iraqi security forces are making significant, tangible improvements," Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, said earlier this month.
But 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 yesterday in a news conference in Baghdad. "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.