GAO Report: Iraq Falls Short of Benchmarks

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A draft of the assessment of the political and military situation in Iraq by the Government Accountability Office says that the Iraqi government has failed to meet most of the benchmarks laid out by Congress to measure progress in Iraq.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And for those who want more information, another assessment of the political and military situation on Iraq comes out today. A draft of the report by the Government Accountability Office - or GAO - is already been leaked. And so we know that it says the Iraqi government failed to meet 15 out of 18 benchmarks laid out by Congress to measure progress. This is one of several reports due out soon.

And we're going now to NPR national security correspondent, Jackie Northam.

Jackie, good morning.

JACKIE NORTHAM: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What's the GAO say is going wrong?

NORTHAM: Well, the GAO report says that Iraqi government has simply failed to meet most of the key benchmarks. It says there's been virtually no political progress, that the Iraqi government has not passed legislation on constitutional forum or debaathification, nor has it passed any oil laws. It says the level of violence is still very high in Iraq, especially against the civilians. And that there's been unsatisfactory progress towards deploying three Iraqi brigades in Baghdad.

Though, the White House did its own assessment of these 18 benchmarks in July and gave a much better marks to the Iraqi government. The Pentagon had an opportunity to look at the GAO's assessment in the defense books and said they did provide the GAO with more information in the hopes that it might help change some of these failing grades. But clearly, this is not the report that the administration would like out there right now.

INSKEEP: Some of those failing grades are for political progress or the lack of it. Some of them focused on military issues. And I gather there's another report coming up.

NORTHAM: On the security situation, that's right.

INSKEEP: Right, right.

NORTHAM: And this one's by an independent commission that was established by Congress. And it's made up of military officers led by General James Jones. And, Steve, he was the former top U.S. commander of allied forces in Europe. And this report is expected to say that the Iraqi army is doing okay, but the commission is expected to recommend that the Iraqi National Police essentially be disbanded and rebuilt from scratch because it's riddled with malicious and corrupt officials.

I also want to mention that there was another assessment by the National Intelligence Estimate a couple of weeks back. And that, too, gave a rather dire view of Iraq. So all these reports and accompanying testimony that we'll hear over the next week or so will all be extremely valuable to members of Congress. But at the end of the day, everyone is waiting to hear what General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker have to say. And they'll testify next week.

INSKEEP: Should we see the presidential visit to Iraq as sort of an effort to prepare the ground for that report?

NORTHAM: It is being seen as sort of setting the stage for this string of progress reports that are coming out. And the visit gave the president the opportunity to talk about success being made in Anbar Province and to hand Congress an olive branch by hinting that a troop reduction could be possible, although he didn't give any details. And certainly, the president couldn't have visited Anbar Province a few months ago, because it was so dangerous.

And now on the eve of the Petraeus report, the president can say I've been there, I've talked to the sheiks. This whole notion of building from the bottom up using local government is working if we just give it time. And that's a line that General Petraeus is expected to take to Congress next week. He'll try to convince lawmakers that there has been progress and ask them to be patient.

And it's widely expected he'll ask Congress to allow the U.S. military surge to continue until at least next spring. And General Petraeus is articulate and smart and widely respected by both Republicans and Democrats.

INSKEEP: We're talking with NPR's national security correspondent Jackie Northam about a string of reports coming out in Iraq.

And, Jackie, I don't want to sound too cynical about this, but we've got a situation where all sorts of members of Congress and senators have gone to Iraq and talked with people themselves. There's been a huge amount of news coverage. People have had years to think about progress in the war. What is it that people actually still need to know from these reports in order to make an informed decision?

NORTHAM: I think the thing about this many progress reports, and there's a -kind of diffused the situation. In other words, lawmakers can pick and choose what they want from each of these to help bolster their argument for what to do in Iraq. I think the one thing that all the reports agree on, though, is that Iraq leaders still cannot govern effectively. There's still no widespread reconciliation between the Sunnis and the Shiites and the Kurds.

And that was the point of the surge, of sending in 30,000 U.S. troops, was to quell violence enough to create conditions so that political reconciliation could take place. And there are very few signs of that.

INSKEEP: So the idea was to buy time, the time was bought and it wasn't spent very well.

NORTHAM: And not so far, no.

INSKEEP: Jackie, thanks very much.

NORTHAM: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's national security correspondent, Jackie Northam.

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