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Little Progress Seen on Iraq Goals
Associated Press | August 30, 2007WASHINGTON - The Iraqi government has failed to meet the vast majority of political and military goals laid out by lawmakers to assess President Bush's Iraq war strategy, congressional auditors have determined.
The Associated Press has learned the Government Accountability Office, or GAO, will report that at least 13 of the 18 benchmarks to measure the surge of U.S. troops to Iraq are unfulfilled ahead of a Sept. 15 deadline. That's when Bush is to give a detailed accounting of the situation eight months after he announced the policy, according to three officials familiar with the matter.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the report has not been made public, also said the administration is preparing a case to play down the findings, arguing that Congress ordered the GAO to use unfair, "all or nothing" standards when compiling the document.
The GAO is to give a classified briefing about its findings to lawmakers on Thursday. It is not yet clear when its unclassified report will be released but it is due Sept. 1 amid a series of assessments called for in January legislation that authorized Bush's plan to send 30,000 more troops to Iraq, where there is now a total of more than 160,000 troops.
Among those Bush will hear from are the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Defense Secretary Robert Gates; the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus; and the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker. The Pentagon said Wednesday Bush was likely to get a variety of views from different military officials. Bush will then deliver his own report to Congress by Sept. 15.
The GAO report comes at a pivotal time in the Iraq debate. So far, Republicans have mostly stood by Bush on the war and staved off Democratic demands of troop withdrawals. But in exchange for their support, many GOP members said they wanted to see substantial progress in Iraq by September or else they would call for a new strategy, including possibly a withdrawal of troops.
Democrats are expected this fall to push for another round of votes on their legislation ordering most troops out by spring. A likely target for the debate will be a $147 billion bill the military needs to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The money covers the 2007 budget year, which begins Oct. 1.
The GAO, the congressional watchdog, is expected to find that the Iraqis have met only modest security goals for Baghdad and none of the major political aims such as passage of an oil law.
The White House declined to comment on the specific findings of the GAO report, which one official said would put the Iraqi government's success rate at about 20 percent.
"While we've seen progress in some areas, it would not surprise me that the GAO would make this assessment given the difficult congressionally mandated measurement they had to follow," said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the National Security Council.
An internal White House memorandum, prepared to respond to the GAO findings, says the report will claim the Iraqis have failed on at least 13 benchmarks. It also says the criteria lawmakers set for the report allow no room to report progress, only absolute success or failure.
The memo argues that the GAO will not present a "true picture" of the situation in Iraq because the standards were "designed to lock in failure," according to portions of the document read to the AP by an official who has seen it.
By contrast, the memo says, a July interim report on the surge called for the administration to report on "progress" made toward reaching the wide-ranging benchmarks.
The July report said the administration believed the Iraqis had made satisfactory progress on eight of the 13 benchmarks. It graded six as unsatisfactory and said two were mixed. It said it was too early to judge the remaining two.
The GAO, however, has been told to "assess whether or not such benchmarks have been met," and the administration plans to assert that is too tough a standard to be met at this point in the surge, the officials said.
"It's pretty clear that if that's your measurement standard a majority of the benchmarks would be determined not to have been met," said one official. "A lot of them are multipart and so, even if 90 percent of it is done, it's still a failure."
At the Pentagon, spokesman Geoff Morrell previewed the administration's response to the GAO report, comparing it unfavorably to the July findings.
"The standard the GAO has set is far more stringent," he told reporters. "Some might argue it's impossible to meet."
Morrell said Bush's top military advisers, including Gates, would give the president their opinions "directly and in an unvarnished way."
"The objective ... is not to reach consensus," he said. "That may be the end result, but that's not what he (Gates) is looking for. He is looking for a way to sort of make sure that the normal bureaucratic massaging that sometimes eliminates the rough edges or the sharp differences between individuals does not victimize this process, so that the president can get distinct - if that's the way it turns out to be - points of view on where we are and where we need to go."
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