Congress report says violence stays high in Iraq

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By Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan
Reuters
Tuesday, September 4, 2007; 4:02 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Violence is high in Iraq, with scant political progress and mixed results on security, a Congressional report said on Tuesday, a day after President George W. Bush visited Anbar province and struck an upbeat tone.

The independent Government Accountability Office (GAO) said Iraq had failed to meet 11 of 18 political and military goals set by Congress last May. Iraq met three benchmarks and partially met another four, it said.

"Violence remains high, the number of Iraqi security forces capable of conducting independent operations has declined and militias are not disarmed," the GAO report said -- despite Bush's addition of 30,000 U.S. troops to Iraq this year.

"It is unclear whether sectarian violence in Iraq has decreased," David Walker, head of the GAO, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The Iraqi government got partial credit for one security goal by providing three brigades to support Baghdad operations, but some of those were of limited effectiveness, Walker said.

Baghdad had not met a number of political goals either, the GAO said.

"Of particular concern is the lack of progress on de-Ba'athification legislation that could promote greater Sunni participation in the national government and comprehensive hydrocarbon legislation that would distribute Iraq's vast oil wealth," the GAO said. Laws on amnesty, provincial elections and constitutional review also had not been passed.

Bush made an unannounced visit to Iraq on Monday just before Congress returned from its summer recess with Democrats prepared to renew the debate over the unpopular war.

With three reports ordered by Congress coming out in the next few weeks, Bush pointed to what he called security successes in Anbar province and raised the prospect of fewer U.S. forces if gains continued.

Many defense experts say the additional U.S. troops will have to begin leaving Iraq by spring anyway unless the Bush administration extends their tours of duty over 15 months.

Retired Marine Gen. James Jones, head of an independent commission set up by Congress, will report on Iraq security forces later this week. The White House will submit its own assessment by September 15, after testimony to Congress next week by U.S. Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus and the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker.

The White House tried to play down the negative GAO findings. "The GAO report takes a fairly static view of progress in Iraq," spokesman Tony Fratto said.


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