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Congress: Iraq 'surge' not working

Congress: Iraq 'surge' not working

The report will bolster Bush critics who say
US policy in Iraq has failed [EPA]

The White House is playing down a report by the investigative arm of the US congress which contradicts key Bush administration claims of progress in Iraq.

Portions of the draft report, compiled by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and due to be released next week, have been leaked to the media.

Among its conclusions: the so-called troop "surge" in Iraq is not the success the Bush administration has claimed.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

The sharply negative report says Iraq has failed to meet 15 of 18 benchmarks in military and political improvement.

The assessment, first reported by the Washington Post, says the Iraqi government has failed to make constitutional changes, crack down on sectarian militias and provide combat-ready Iraqi army forces to support us troops.

Key points: GAO report
Iraqi govt has failed to make constitutional changes, or crack down on sectarian militias

Level of violence against Iraqi civilians unchanged

No improvement of Iraqi forces' capabilities

Shia militias infiltrating security forces

The Bush administration’s interim report, issued in July, gave passing grades in those three areas.

That report said Iraq had made progress on eight of out of the 18 benchmarks.

The GAO report also disputes claims that the Bush ‘surge’ strategy has improved security in Baghdad.

It says the number of attacks on Iraqi civilians remains unchanged over the past six month, the capabilities of Iraqi security forces have not improved, and Shia militias have infiltrated Iraqi army units.

Tony Snow, the White House spokesman, disputed the GAO's overall findings saying the report had set an unrealistically high bar for progress and contained factual errors.

He said that the GAO looked at which political and security goals had actually been met, while the administration's assessment was about progress being made.

"It's no secret that many of the benchmarks have not been met," Snow told reporters.

"If you're trying to do an overall judgment on what's going on in Iraq, the idea that somehow your standard is everything completed or nothing completed seems to me to be a pretty high standard to meet.

"On the other hand, if you're trying to figure out are you making progress toward the goals that you have set out, that's probably the proper way to look at it," he said.

"The real question people have is what's going on in Iraq? Is the surge having an impact?… The answer is 'yes'. No question about it."

But the report and its conclusions about the lack of action by the Iraqi government sparked renewed criticism of the administration from Democrats on Capitol Hill.

'Gone backwards'

The report says levels of violence against Iraqi
civilians remains unchanged [Reuters]
"The forthcoming GAO report offers a clear assessment that a new direction in Iraq must begin immediately, before more American lives are lost and more taxpayer dollars wasted," said Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader.

His comments were echoed by fellow Democrats.

"Unfortunately by almost every measure of progress, they have not only failed to make progress, but they have actually gone backwards," Representative Jason Altmire told reporters.

The Washington Post says the draft GAO report was leaked to reporters by an official who feared its negative findings would be ‘watered down’ before its official release next week.

On Thursday the Pentagon said that after reviewing a draft of the GAO report policy officials had "made some factual corrections" and "offered some suggestions on a few of the actual grades" assigned by the report's authors, the Associated Press news agency reported.

"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','' Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, was quoted as saying.

He did not elaborate which of the benchmark grades the Pentagon was disputing.

A highly anticipated report from General David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq, is due before September 15.
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