Study challenges Bush’s assessment of war

By The Associated Press

WASHINGTON- Baghdad has not met 11 of its 18 political and security goals, according to a new independent report on Iraq that challenges President Bush’s assessment on the war.

The study, conducted by the Government Accountability Office, was slightly more upbeat than initially planned. After receiving substantial resistance from the White House, the GAO determined that four benchmarks -instead of two – had been partially met.

But GAO stuck with its original contention that only three goals out of the 18 had been achieved. The goals met include establishing joint security stations in Baghdad, ensuring minority rights in the Iraqi legislature and creating support committees for the Baghdad security plan.

“Overall key legislation has not been passed, violence remains high, and it is unclear whether the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion in reconstruction funds,” said U.S. Comptroller David Walker in prepared remarks for a Senate hearing on Tuesday.

An advance copy of the 100-page report and Walker’s testimony was obtained by The Associated Press.

GAO’s findings paint a bleaker view of progress in Iraq than offered by Bush in July and comes at a critical time in the Iraq debate. So far, Republicans have stuck by Bush and staved off Democratic legislation ordering troops home. But many, who have grown uneasy about the unpopularity of the war, say they want to see substantial improvement in Iraq by September.

Next week the top military commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, and U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, are scheduled to brief Congress.

“While the Baghdad security plan was intended to reduce sectarian violence, measuring such violence may be difficult since the perpetrator’s intent is not clearly known,” GAO states in its report. “Other measures of violence, such as the number of enemy-initiated attacks, show that violence has remained high through July 2007.”

The report does not make any substantial policy recommendations, but says future administration reports “would be more useful to the Congress” if they provided more detailed information.

Earlier this year, Bush sent 30,000 extra troops to Iraq to enhance security in Baghdad and Anbar province. In a congressionally mandated progress report released by the White House in July, Bush judged that Baghdad had made satisfactory progress in eight of the 18 benchmarks. In five of those eight areas, GAO determined that Iraq had either failed or made only partial progress.

The disparity is largely due to the stricter standard applied by GAO in preparing the report. GAO used a “thumbs up or thumbs down” approach in grading Baghdad, whereas Bush’s assessment looked at whether Iraq was achieving progress. For example, Bush said Iraqi politicians had made satisfactory progress in reviewing its constitution, whereas GAO ruled they had failed because the process was not complete.

The State Department and Defense Department reviewed the report before its release. According to officials interviewed last week, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the study had not been released, the administration disputed GAO’s conclusion that Iraq has failed to provide three trained and ready Iraqi brigades to support Baghdad operations or to ensure that the security plan will not provide a safe haven for outlaws.

In the final report released Tuesday, GAO marked those two benchmarks as “partially met” and alludes to pushback it received from the Pentagon.

For example, GAO said it found that despite increased military operations in Baghdad, “temporary safe havens still exist due to strong sectarian loyalties and militia infiltration of security forces.” The Defense Department countered that the recent troop buildup had significantly reduced the number of safe havens inside Baghdad and in al-Anbar and Diyala provinces.

Regarding the deployment of the three Iraqi brigades, GAO found that of the 19 Iraqi units supporting Baghdad operations only 5 had performed well. The remaining units experienced problems with lack of personnel or equipment.