White House Pushes Back on Iraq Report

By ANNE FLAHERTY and ANNE GEARAN
The Associated Press
Thursday, August 30, 2007; 11:28 PM

WASHINGTON -- An independent assessment concluding that Iraq has made little political progress in recent months despite an influx of U.S. troops drew fierce objections from the White House on Thursday and provided fresh ammunition for Democrats who want to bring troops home.

The political wrangling came days before the report was to be officially released and while most lawmakers were still out of town for the August recess, reflecting the high stakes involved for both sides in the Iraq war debate. President Bush, who planned to meet Friday at the Pentagon with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is nearing a decision on a way forward in Iraq while Congress planned another round of votes this fall to end the war.

A draft report by the Government Accountability Office concluded Iraq has satisfied three of 18 benchmarks set by Congress and partially met two others, a senior administration official said Thursday. None of those are the high-profile political issues such as passage of a national oil revenue sharing law that the Bush administration has said are critical to Iraq's future.

The State Department, Pentagon and White House dispute some GAO findings, including the conclusion that Iraq has only partially met tests involving its budget process and legislation dealing with semiautonomous regions in the large, multiethnic country, two officials said.

Administration officials also disputed 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.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal deliberations that included lengthy meetings Thursday at the White House. The GAO may alter some of its findings in response to administration arguments, one official said.

Administration officials also said the draft report is unrealistically harsh because it assigned pass-or-fail grades to each benchmark.

Signaling a potential setback for U.S. efforts to have Iraq take over its own security, an independent commission will recommend remaking the 26,000-member national police force, which has been bedeviled by corruption and ties to sectarian killings, The New York Times reported. Congress established the commission to assess Iraq's security forces and expects its recommendations next week.

The commission will suggest that current police units _ rampant with sectarianism from the beginning, investigators found _ should be reshaped into a smaller, more elite organization as part of a total overhaul, the Times reported in its Friday editions. Still, the commission also found positive elements in the Iraqi Army's performance since this year's increase in troop levels, which the Times said several officials thought showed promise for the U.S. effort to remake Iraqi institutions.

The GAO found that Iraq had fully met requirements to:

_Establish political, media, economic, and services committees in support of the Baghdad security plan. That plan involves many of the 30,000 U.S. troops Bush sent to Iraq this year.

_ Establish joint security stations in neighborhoods across Baghdad.


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