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Report citing little political progress in Iraq draws criticism from White House, Pentagon

Report citing little political progress in Iraq draws criticism from White House, Pentagon

An independent assessment that concluded Iraq has made little political progress in recent months despite an influx of U.S. troops is drawing a fierce reaction from the White House and providing 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 George W. Bush, who planned to meet Friday at the Defense Department 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.
"It is clear that every objective expert keeps providing the American public with the same facts: that the president's flawed Iraq strategy is failing to deliver what it needs to _ a political solution for Iraq," said Sen. Harry Reid, leader of the Senate's Democratic majority.
In a draft report circulated this week, the Government Accountability Office concluded that at least 13 of the 18 political and security goals for the Iraqi government have not been met. Administration officials swiftly objected to several of the findings and dismissed the report as unrealistically harsh because it assigned pass-or-fail grades to each benchmark, with little nuance.
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.
So far, most Republicans have stood by Bush on the war and staved off Democratic demands for troop withdrawals. In exchange for their support, many Republican members said they wanted to see substantial progress in Iraq by September or else they would recommend a new strategy, including possibly a withdrawal of troops.
GAO officials privately briefed congressional staff on their findings, promising the aides an unvarnished assessment of Iraq when an unclassified version of the report is released Sept. 4. The GAO is the investigative arm of Congress.
"The real question that people have is: What's going on in Iraq? Are we making progress? Militarily, is the surge having an impact?" said White House spokesman Tony Snow. "The answer is yes. There's no question about it."
Democrats and even some Republicans say military progress made in recent weeks is not the issue. If Baghdad politicians refuse to reach a lasting political settlement that can influence the sectarian-fueled violence, the increase in troops is useless, they said.
"By almost every measurable measure of progress, they have not only failed to progress, they have in many cases gone backward," said Democratic Rep. Jason Altmire, who made a recent trip to Iraq. "That to me is the most troubling part of the experience that we had _ because we can see, on the military side, our men and women are doing what has been asked of them."
The Pentagon and State Department provided detailed and lengthy objections to GAO this week in the hopes of swaying the findings.
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Thursday that after reviewing a draft of the GAO report, policy officials "made some factual corrections" and "offered some suggestions on a few of the actual grades" assigned by the GAO.
"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,'" Morrell said. He declined to elaborate or to spell out which of the benchmark grades the Pentagon was disputing.
State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said the GAO should at least note progress made when ruling that Iraq has failed to meet a specific benchmark.
Democrats are expected to try to use money needed to support the war as leverage to bring troops home. The Pentagon has requested $147 billion (euro108 billion) for Iraq and Afghanistan for the budget year that begins Oct. 1.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, suggested Thursday that Bush should not be asking Congress to approve "tens of billions more dollars" when independent voices like GAO find the Iraqis are failing to reach a political accord.
"With the president continuing to stay the course in Iraq, Republicans will have to decide whether they will continue to vote with him or join Democrats and the vast majority of Americans who are demanding a new direction in Iraq and refocusing America's efforts on fighting the real threats of terrorism around the world," said Pelosi.
The GAO report is among several assessments expected in legislation passed in May to finance the war: Retired Gen. James Jones briefs Congress next week on his assessment of the Iraqi security forces; Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, testify the week of Sept. 10. Bush will deliver his own progress report by Sept. 15.
Bush is meeting Friday with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Defense Secretary Robert Gates in a secure conference room at the Pentagon known as "the Tank."
Maj. Gen. Richard Sherlock, director of operational planning for the Joint Chiefs, told reporters that this would be the Joint Chiefs' opportunity to "provide the president with their unvarnished recommendations and their assessments of current operations": in particular, the situation in Iraq.
It did not appear that the session was intended to work out a consensus military view on how long Bush should maintain the U.S. troop buildup in Iraq or how soon to transition to Iraqi control of security.
Morrell said Wednesday that Gates wanted to ensure that all senior military leaders had an opportunity to express their individual views on Iraq to the president, without feeling the need to present a consensus view.
Bush will be hearing advice from Gen. Peter Pace, outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs; Adm. William Fallon, senior commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East; and top commanders in Baghdad.
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Associated Press writers Robert Burns, Matthew Lee, Kimberly Hefling, Terence Hunt and Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.


Updated : 2020-12-06 10:40 GMT+08:00