|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
Iraq has failed to meet all but three of 18 congressionally mandated benchmarks for political and military progress, according to a draft of a Government Accountability Office report. The document questions whether some aspects of a more positive assessment by the White House last month adequately reflected the range of views the GAO found within the administration.
The strikingly negative GAO draft, which will be delivered to Congress in final form on Tuesday, comes as the White House prepares to deliver its own new benchmark report in the second week of September, along with congressional testimony from Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker. They are expected to describe significant security improvements and offer at least some promise for political reconciliation in Iraq.
The draft provides a stark assessment of the tactical effects of the current U.S.-led counteroffensive to secure Baghdad. "While the Baghdad security plan was intended to reduce sectarian violence, U.S. agencies differ on whether such violence has been reduced," it states. While there have been fewer attacks against U.S. forces, it notes, the number of attacks against Iraqi civilians remains unchanged. It also finds that "the capabilities of Iraqi security forces have not improved."
"Overall," the report concludes, "key legislation has not been passed, violence remains high, and it is unclear whether the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion in reconstruction funds," as promised. While it makes no policy recommendations, the draft suggests that future administration assessments "would be more useful" if they backed up their judgments with more details and "provided data on broader measures of violence from all relevant U.S. agencies."
A GAO spokesman declined to comment on the report before it is released. The 69-page draft, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, is still undergoing review at the Defense Department, which may ask that parts of it be classified or request changes in its conclusions. The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, normally submits its draft reports to relevant agencies for comment but makes its own final judgments. The office has published more than 100 assessments of various aspects of the U.S. effort in Iraq since May 2003.
Military analysts called the move unusual for an institution that ordinarily does not air its differences in public, especially while its troops are deployed in combat.
"The professional military guys are going to the non-professional military guys and saying 'Resolve this,'" said Jeffrey White, a military analyst for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "That's what it sounds like."
White said it suggests that the military commanders want to be able to distance themselves from Iraq strategy by making it clear that whatever course is followed is the president's decision, not what commanders agreed on.
Bush has said on several occasions that he will follow the recommendation of Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, but the Pentagon plan makes certain that other points of view are heard.
Morrell said the commanders will make their presentations to Bush at around the same time that Petraeus appears before Congress to assess progress in Iraq in mid September.
Morrell said that those making presentations to the president would include Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. William Fallon, the commander of U.S. Central Command, which has responsibility for U.S. military actions in the Middle East, Army Gen. George Casey, the chief of staff of the Army, and Petraeus. In addition, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will share his opinion with the president.
Pentagon commanders are known to be divided over how to proceed in Iraq.
Pentagon officials have told McClatchy Newspapers that Casey, who was the top commander in Iraq, wants the U.S. to draw down forces and focus on training the Iraqi forces, as it did during his tenure in Iraq, and worries about the strain the war is having on the Army.
Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Times reported that Pace would recommend reducing the number of troops in Baghdad because the deployments are straining the military.
Petraeus, however, is expected to argue that the number of U.S. troops should be kept at their current levels, saying that the increase in U.S. forces this year is beginning to reduce sectarian violence.