Iraq progress report: views at war
Democrats and the White House tussle over a new GAO assessment.
Violence in Iraq is down – unless it isn't. The surge of US troops into Baghdad has eliminated havens for outlaws – or not. The Iraqi government has sent three brigades to help curb Baghdad violence – depending on the definition of "brigade."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
As Washington enters a crucial period of debate about the Iraq war, Democrats in Congress and the Bush administration appear to differ on basic facts and numbers about the situation there, as well as on what policies to pursue.
Democrats are seizing upon a new report by the Government Accountability Office to illustrate what they say is the failure of the White House "surge" strategy, which began in January. The White House and Pentagon say the GAO study is often wrong – and that Gen. David Petraeus will set the record right with his report next week.
Some differences are real disagreements, say experts. Others simply reflect different time frames, incomplete data, or pass/fail judgments rather than a sliding scale of grades. But even as they argue, both sides agree on some important things: Iraqi violence remains high, extra US troops have done some good, and Iraq's central government has failed to promote sectarian reconciliation.
"Maybe there is a broader consensus on this than we think," says William Martel, an associate professor of security studies at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.
The GAO report, released in its final form Sept. 4, judges that Iraq has fully met three of 18 standards for progress and partially met four others.
On 11 benchmarks, Iraq has failed, according to the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress.
"Overall, key legislation has not been passed, violence remains high, and it is unclear whether the Iraqi government will spend the $10 billion in reconstruction funds it has allocated," said David Walker, comptroller general of the United States, at a Sept. 4 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
White House and Defense Department officials replied that the study was far too bleak. A preliminary administration report in July found that Iraq had met eight of the 18 benchmarks and partially met two more.
The administration and some independent experts were especially critical of GAO's findings on Iraq's overall levels of violence.
According to the GAO, it is difficult to say whether sectarian violence has decreased in Iraq, as that would require judging the intent of any attack.
Furthermore, while attacks on US and coalition forces have declined in recent weeks, the average number of daily attacks on civilians has stayed the same over the past six months, says the GAO study.
"It is unclear whether violence has been reduced," Comptroller General Walker told the Senate panel.
Signs of less violence
Yet according to Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution who has closely followed statistics on Iraq for years, the average number of daily attacks on Iraqi civilians and US/allied forces has declined from 160 in August 2006 to 120 in August 2007.
The GAO's data may not reflect the downward trend experienced last month, says Mr. O'Hanlon. During his recent tour through Iraq, he adds, every local briefing he received from the US military said that attacks in that particular sector were down.