Pentagon Challenges GAO's Report on Iraq

By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 31, 2007

The Pentagon has disputed parts of a progress report on Iraq drafted by the Government Accountability Office, and asked that some of the assessment's failing grades on key political and security benchmarks be changed before the final report is made public next week, a Defense spokesman said yesterday.

"We have provided the GAO with information which we believe will lead them to conclude that a few of the benchmark grades should be upgraded from 'not met' to 'met,' " spokesman Geoff Morrell said. He declined to specify which grades he was citing.

In a draft version of an audit ordered by Congress last spring, the GAO concluded that Iraq had met only three of 18 benchmarks lawmakers set for progress toward political reconciliation and security. The draft has circulated within the State and Defense departments for comment before its publication.

Although the State Department proposed some changes, it did not dispute the basic conclusions, said an administration official involved in Iraq policy. The Pentagon, however, "made some factual corrections" and "offered some suggestions on a few of the actual grades," Morrell said. The GAO, Congress's investigative arm, is not obligated to make changes based on such comments.

Another congressionally mandated report by an independent commission is examining the Iraqi security forces, and is likely to be more optimistic than the GAO about the state of the Iraqi army, said a person who has read parts of it. The same person said the commission, led by retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, was highly critical of the Iraqi police, which is widely described as infiltrated by Shiite militias.

Democrats seized on the GAO draft conclusions, first reported in yesterday's Washington Post, to warn that President Bush would be likely to distort the Iraq situation when he makes his own report to Congress in mid-September after long-awaited testimony by Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker. "As in the past, President Bush stubbornly refuses to acknowledge the facts on the ground about the sectarian civil war in Iraq or the growing bipartisan opposition to his failed policies," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement.

Pelosi cited negative conclusions in the GAO report and last month's National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq to say that "the Iraqi government has failed to achieve required reforms." Influential Republicans have joined Democrats in recent months to demand that Bush begin drawing down U.S. troops. Bush has argued that the strategy he announced in January, which increased the U.S. presence to more than 160,000 troops, is succeeding and deserves more time.

White House spokesman Tony Snow declined to comment on the draft yesterday, saying, "Let's wait and see what the GAO has to report" when the final version is released Tuesday. The standard Congress set for the GAO -- an up or down determination of whether a benchmark has been met -- is higher than what is required from Bush, he said. In the report due to Congress by Sept. 15, the White House is required to ascertain only whether progress is being made.

"It's no secret that many of the benchmarks have not been met," Snow said.

Snow said the White House thinks Petraeus and Crocker will accurately reflect conditions in Iraq. "We are certainly looking forward to hearing from the general who is in charge of overall operations and the ambassador who works there every day, the folks who have a real grasp of ground truth."

Staff writer Thomas E. Ricks contributed to this report.

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