GAO Report: Iraq Failed US Benchmarks, Senate Told

The government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has met only 3 out of 18 benchmarks set by Congress as a condition of funding US President George Bush’s troop surge, according to a report of the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

On Tuesday, the Comptroller General of the independent nonpartisan GAO, David Walker, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Maliki government had first committed to the political, military and economic benchmarks in June 2006. Congress had then approved funding for President Bush to send 30,000 additional US troops to Iraq, on the proviso that Prime Minister Maliki be held accountable for meeting these benchmarks.

Mr Walker said the GAO had found that only two of nine security benchmarks had been met. Although the Iraqi government had set up committees and joint US-Iraqi security stations to support the Baghdad security plan, it had failed to address militia control of local areas, prevent sectarian-based abuse by Iraqi security forces and increase the number of army units capable of independent operations.

There is also no clear evidence that sectarian violence has decreased as a result of the troop surge, which has brought the number of US troops in Iraq up to 160,000. The reduction of sectarian violence is a key benchmark and widely considered dependent upon significant progress being made towards political reconciliation, which raises another key failure of the Maliki government.

“Clearly, the least progress has been made on the political front,” said Mr Walker. Out of eight legislative benchmarks – which include laws that deal with de-Ba’athification, oil-revenue sharing, provincial elections and militia disarmament – the Maliki government had managed to enact only one law which protected the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi parliament.

Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), who chaired the hearing, said the GAO’s assessment indicates the failure of the troop surge. “The fundamental purpose of the surge was to give the Iraqi government breathing room to make the decisions necessary, to be able to achieve the benchmarks,” he said. “And when we see after its full implementation those benchmarks are as far from being reached as they are, it is hard to draw any assessment except that there is a failing grade for a policy that is still not working.”

The committee’s ranking Republican, Senator Richard Lugar (Ind.), agreed that the lack of progress towards political reconciliation was a matter of concern. “If the answer ultimately is that Iraqis are really not as concerned about being Iraqis, but only Iraqis if they are in charge, they will continue civil strife, and this is an awesome dilemma.” However, he also warned against using “pass or fail grades” because “benchmarks are not necessarily predictive of ultimate success or failure.”

White House spokesman Tony Snow confirmed that the performance indicators set by Congress and the GAO – for example, whether or not a benchmark has been met – tend to be higher than those accepted by President Bush, who only considers whether or not progress has been made towards the benchmarks.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) argued that the US could not afford to keep extending the timelines for progress in Iraq. “Everyday we must continue to fight for a sensible, responsible path out of Iraq in order to restore America’s national security,” he said. “The calendar has not changed. It’s September. It’s time to make a decision. We can’t continue the way we are. We can’t afford it, militarily and financially.”

President Bush raised the prospect of reducing US troop levels during his unannounced visit to Iraq on Monday, citing significant progress made in Anbar province, formerly a stronghold of the Iraqi insurgency and al Qaeda militants.

Mr Walker acknowledged the progress made in Anbar but expressed doubt as to whether US forces could effect a similar success in other areas of Iraq. “There’s no question there’s been progress in Anbar Province,” he said. “But Anbar Province is not Baghdad and is not representative of other provinces in Iraq. It’s Sunni dominated. The issues there are primarily dealing with al Qaeda and Sunni on Sunni challenges. The question is: which of that is transferable?”

The recent security improvements in Anbar have resulted from Sunni tribal chiefs joining forces with US troops to drive al Qaeda out of their province, and not from the policies or actions of the Shia-dominated Iraqi government, which is still widely feared and opposed by Iraq’s Sunni minority.

Mr Walker also said he doubts that Iraqi security forces can keep militants out of neighborhoods cleared by US forces. “There’s a significant question as to whether or not Iraqi security forces will be able to maintain the safety and security in these areas absent direct US troop involvement because Iraqi security forces still require significant support from the United States in the form of logistics, intelligence and other types of activities,” he said.

Significantly, the dependence of Iraqi forces on US troops seems to be increasing, which represents a key security benchmark failure. Prior to the release of the GAO report, the Pentagon fought to remove the report’s finding that the number of independent units had declined between March and July 2007.

On Tuesday, Senator Reid said the Iraqi government’s lack of progress served to undermine the national security of the United States.

“Despite the enormous sacrifices of our troops, the Iraqi government remains both unable and unwilling to make the compromises necessary to stabilize their country and quell the violence,” he said. “Meanwhile, Bin Laden and al Qaeda have regained their pre-9/11 strength, and we do not have enough troops for Afghanistan or to respond to another unexpected crisis elsewhere around the globe. A new direction in Iraq must begin in order to make America more secure.”

* * * * *

The Government Accountability Office found that out of 18 benchmarks set by Congress, the Iraqi government has met three, partially met four, and failed to meet eleven. They are listed in full below:

Benchmarks Met

  • establishing supporting political, media, economic, and services committees in support of the Baghdad security plan
  • establishing all of the planned joint security stations in neighborhoods across Baghdad
  • ensuring that the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature are protected

Benchmarks Partially Met

  • enacting and implementing legislation on procedures to form semi-autonomous regions
  • providing three trained and ready brigades to support Baghdad operations
  • ensuring that, according to President Bush, Prime Minister Maliki said “the Baghdad security plan will not provide a safe haven for any outlaws, regardless of [their] sectarian or political affiliation
  • allocating and spending $10 billion in Iraqi revenues for reconstruction projects, including delivery of essential services, on an equitable basis

Benchmarks Not Met

  • forming a Constitutional Review Committee and completing the constitutional review
  • enacting and implementing legislation on de-Ba’athification
  • enacting and implementing legislation to ensure the equitable distribution of hydrocarbon resources of the people of Iraq without regard to the sect or ethnicity of recipients, and enacting and implementing legislation to ensure that the energy resources of Iraq benefit Sunni Arabs, Shia Arabs, Kurds, and other Iraqi citizens in an equitable manner
  • enacting and implementing legislation establishing an Independent High Electoral Commission, provincial elections law, provincial council authorities, and a date for provincial elections
  • enacting and implementing legislation addressing amnesty
  • enacting and implementing legislation establishing a strong militia disarmament program to ensure that such security forces are accountable only to the central government and loyal to the Constitution of Iraq
  • providing Iraqi commanders with all authorities to execute this plan and to make tactical and operational decisions, in consultation with US commanders, without political intervention, to include the authority to pursue all extremists, including Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias
  • ensuring that Iraqi security forces are providing even-handed enforcement of the law (Iraqi security forces still engaged in sectarian-based abuses)
  • reducing the level of sectarian violence in Iraq and eliminating militia control of local security
  • increasing the number of Iraqi security forces units capable of operating independently
  • ensuring that Iraq’s political authorities are not undermining or making false accusations against members of the Iraqi security forces

Download the reports:  http://www.gao.gov

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