View Full Version : Report gives Iraqi progress mixed reviews

07-12-07, 07:52 PM
Report gives Iraqi progress mixed reviews
By William H. McMichael - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Jul 12, 2007 17:33:17 EDT

The Iraqi government has made mixed progress in its efforts to improve security, stability and political reconciliation after four years of U.S. occupation marked by continued sectarian violence and terrorist attacks, a new Bush administration report concludes.

In the interim assessment, required by Congress, the administration accused Syria of fostering a network that supplies as many as 50 to 80 suicide bombers per month for al-Qaida in Iraq. It also said Iran continues to fund extremist groups.

The July 12 report, prepared by a mix of civilian and military officials, said that despite progress on some fronts by the government of Nouri al-Maliki, “the security situation in Iraq remains complex and extremely challenging,” the “economic picture is uneven,” and political reconciliation is lagging.

It found progress being made in only eight of 18 nonbinding benchmarks included in the congressional legislation currently funding the U.S. effort.

For instance, Iraq has provided “three trained and ready Iraqi brigades to support Baghdad operations.” Iraq has also — “with substantial coalition assistance” — made “satisfactory progress” towards reducing sectarian violence.

But the report found such signs in only six of 16 other benchmarks. Progress in two other areas was considered too mixed to clearly characterize.

The authors of the report found enough progress to be encouraged, particularly given that that administration’s surge of five combat brigades, aimed at stabilizing the situation enough to allow conditions to improve, has been fully in place for only one month.

“While all of those conditions have not yet been met, and the new strategy is still in its early stages, there are some encouraging signs that should, over time, point the way to a more normalized and sustainable level of U.S. engagement in Iraq, with a decreasing number of U.S. combat forces increasingly focused on a core set of missions, such as those set out by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group,” the report stated.

A more comprehensive September report to be delivered by Gen. David Petraeus, senior U.S. commander in Iraq, will be a fairer gauge of the situation, President Bush cautioned during a White House news conference.

The report, issued in the fifth year of a war that has taken the lives of more than 3,600 U.S. troops, and is costing the U.S. an estimated $10 billion to $12 billion per month, gained a new visibility and importance in recent days due to rising congressional impatience with the war effort.

At a news conference that coincided with the report’s release, President Bush said, “I believe we can succeed in Iraq and I know we must. When we start drawing down our forces in Iraq, it will (be) because our military commanders say the conditions on the ground are right, not because pollsters say it’ll be good politics.”

Bush seemed defiant at times at his news conference. “I don’t think Congress ought to be running the war,” he said. “I think they ought to be funding the troops.”

But congressional Democrats were immediately critical. The report “provides little reason to think that we will see significant progress on critical benchmarks relating to Iraqi political progress and national reconciliation in the upcoming September assessment or in the foreseeable future,” said Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. He called for taking steps to “responsibly redeploy U.S. forces from Iraq.”

The Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., took issue with the report’s conclusion that despite the problematic areas, “it does not, however, necessitate a revision to our current plan and strategy. I, and a strong majority of Americans, disagree.”

“It is time for the president to listen to the American people and do what is necessary to protect this nation,” said Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Senate Majority Leader. “That means admitting his Iraq policy has failed, working with the Democrats and Republicans in Congress on crafting a new way forward in Iraq, and refocusing our collective efforts on defeating al-Qaida,” he said in a statement.

With polls showing scant public support for the war, and the U.S. casualty count climbing, Republicans whose names will be on the 2008 election ballot also have shown increasing signs of restiveness in recent weeks.

Several veteran Republicans have called on Bush to change course, and Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Oregon, on Wednesday became the first member of his party to announce on the Senate floor that he will support legislation that orders a troop withdrawal to begin within 120 days, to be completed by April 30.

That announcement, along with other calls for a dramatic change in policy, prompted an acerbic response from Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio. “Wimps,” he called fellow GOP lawmakers who part company with the president on the war.

In a statement issued after the report was made public, Boehner said the progress on “reducing violence and improving security in Iraq, after less than one month of full troop strength, has been a positive development.”

But, he added, “We need to see more progress from the Iraqi people and there government on key benchmarks.”

The report warned of “tough fighting” during the summer, as U.S. and Iraqi forces “seek to seize the initiative from early gains and shape conditions of longer-term stabilization.”

In an evident jab at critics of Bush’s war policies, the report also said progress toward political reconciliation was hampered by “increasing concern among Iraqi political leaders that the United States may not have a long term-commitment to Iraq.”

Areas in which “satisfactory progress” has been made, according to the report:

*Providing three trained and ready Iraqi brigades to support Baghdad operations.

*Establishing supporting political, media, economic and security committees in support of the Baghdad Security Plan.

*Forming a constitutional review committee and then completing the constitutional review.

*Enacting and implementing legislation on procedures to form semi-autonomous regions.

*Establishing the planned joint security stations in neighborhoods across Baghdad, “with substantial coalition assistance.”

*Ensuring that the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature are protected.

*Allocating funds to ministries and provinces.

*Enacting and implementing legislation on establishing an Independent High Electoral Commission.

*Reducing sectarian violence “with substantial coalition assistance.”

Areas in which Iraq “has not made satisfactory progress”:

*Enacting and implementing legislation on de-Ba’athification reform (integrating former Ba’athists and Arab nationalists into civic life).

*Enacting and implementing legislation on equitable distribution of oil revenues.

*Providing Iraqi commanders with all authorities to execute the Baghdad Security Plan ... without political intervention ... and the authority to pursue all extremists.

*Ensuring that Iraqi Security Forces are providing even-handed enforcement of the law.

*Ensuring that the Baghdad Security Plan does not provide a safe haven for any outlaws, regardless of their sectarian or political affiliations.

*Ensuring that Iraq’s political authorities are not undermining or making false accusations against members of the Iraqi Security Forces.

*Increasing the number of Iraqi Security Forces units capable of operating independently.

*Enacting and implementing legislation on establishing provincial elections law, provincial council authorities and a date for provincial elections.

*Eliminating militia control of local security.

Areas in which mixed progress has been made:

*Enacting and implementing legislation addressing amnesty for those who fought against the government since 2003 or who committed crimes in the name of the Iraqi government.

*Enacting and implementing legislation establishing a strong militia disarmament program to ensure such forces are accountable only to the central government.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.