GAO Reports Iraq Has Failed to Meet 11 of 18 Benchmarks

By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 4, 2007; 5:46 PM

The Iraqi government has failed to meet 11 of the 18 political, economic and security benchmarks it set for itself, and violence remains high despite the U.S. troop surge, the Government Accountability Office reported today.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Comptroller General David M. Walker, who heads the GAO, painted a mostly grim portrait of the Iraqi government's progress ahead of a crucial report due to be presented next week by the top U.S. military commander and the U.S. ambassador in Iraq.

"The government is dysfunctional," Walker told the panel in response to a question. He noted that 15 of the 37 ministers in the cabinet of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have withdrawn their support for him and that there are "significant" problems with the capabilities of remaining ministries.

Formally presenting a GAO report that Congress requested on the benchmarks, Walker said the Iraqi government has met three of the 18, partially met four and failed to meet 11. The benchmarks, based on commitments the Maliki government made in June 2006, were inserted in U.S. legislation authorizing emergency war funding. Under the legislation, the administration must report on progress in achieving them.

"Overall, key legislation has not been passed, violence remains high and it is unclear whether the Iraqi government will spend $10 billon in reconstruction funds," according to a summary in the GAO report. It says the government has met only one of eight legislative benchmarks -- protecting the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature -- and has partially met another regarding a law on the formation of regions.

"The government has not enacted legislation on de-Baathification, oil revenue sharing, provincial elections, amnesty or militia disarmament," and a review committee has not completed work on important revisions to Iraq's constitution, the GAO reports.

While the Bush administration cited progress one some of the benchmarks in July, the GAO says, it "provided little information on what step in the legislative process each benchmark had reached."

The two other benchmarks that have been met involve security issues, the report says.

"Specifically, Iraq's government has established various committees in support of the Baghdad security plan and established almost all of the planned Joint Security Stations in Baghdad," it says. "The government has partially met the benchmarks of providing three trained and ready brigades for Baghdad operations and eliminating safe havens for outlawed groups."

The GAO says five other security goals have not been met, with the Iraqi government failing to eliminate militia control of local security, end political intervention in military operations, ensure even-handed enforcement of the law, increase the number of army units capable of independent operations, or prevent political authorities from making false accusations against security forces.

"It is unclear whether sectarian violence in Iraq has decreased -- a key security benchmark -- since it is difficult to measure the perpetrator's intent, and other measures of population security show differing trends," the report says.

Elaborating on this in his testimony, Walker said that within U.S. government agencies, there were "differing numbers and differing opinions on whether or not sectarian violence has come down." He said that "multiple sources" show "different levels of violence, with different trends."

After the White House complained about some of the GAO's findings in a draft report that was leaked last week, the agency tempered its conclusions somewhat, determining in its final report that Iraq had partially met four benchmarks--two more than were identified in the draft.

Walker denied that the GAO succumbed to administration pressure in modifying its findings on the two benchmarks. He said the changes were the result of "classified information" that was obtained by his own staff.

Specifically, the administration had disputed the GAO's initial conclusion that Iraq had failed to provide three trained and ready brigades to support security operations in Baghdad and had not eliminated safe havens for militias. The final GAO report says those two benchmarks were partially met. Despite increased U.S. and Iraqi security measures in Baghdad, it says, "temporary safe havens still exist due to strong sectarian loyalties and militia infiltration of security forces."

"Militia disarmament is a serious issue that needs to be resolved," Walker told the committee.

He said a major decision for the administration and Congress is "what is the proper role for our forces in Iraq." He said there is a major difference between "fighting al-Qaeda" on the one hand and "providing security and safety in the streets" on the other.

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