Wednesday, September 05, 2007

GAO report confirms most benchmarks unmet in Iraq

Above: A soldier from the 10th Mountain Division grades Iraqi Police recruits on physical fitness as they perform push-ups at Patrol Base Warrior Keep yesterday.

A key U.S. report on Iraq paints a bleak picture of military and political progress there, despite the addition of 30,000 U.S. troops in recent months.

The independent report by the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress -- the General Accounting Office (GAO) -- said the Iraqi government has only fully met three of 18 political and security benchmarks of progress Congress laid out last spring when it approved the latest round of funding for the war.

The report, the first of three this month on the Iraq war, was delivered to Congress on September 4, one day after President George W. Bush made a surprise visit to that country and told troops they might be able to start coming home soon if the situation continued to improve.

But the Congressional agency behind the report found that violence was increasing and political progress had stalled, which cast doubt on the president’s assessment.

The plan to hold Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government accountable for measurable benchmarks helped Bush win supporters for his decision earlier this year to send 30,000 additional troops to Iraq.

That surge’s success was on trial as the GAO report got a public hearing on Capitol Hill before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"It is inescapable and unavoidable to ignore the bottom-line conclusion of your report, which says that the Iraqi government has met three, partially met four, and did not meet 11 of its 18 benchmarks," Democratic Senator John Kerry told the report's lead author, GAO Comptroller General David Walker. "Overall, key legislation has not been passed, violence remains high, it remains unclear whether the Iraqi government will spend ten billion dollars in reconstruction funds. In other words, only three of these 18 benchmarks have actually been met.”

According to the report, the three benchmarks al-Maliki has met are the establishment of political committees to support the Baghdad Security Plan, the creation of neighborhood security stations throughout the capital, and the protection of the rights of minority political parties in government.

Among the government’s key failures, however, are:

-- no reduction in sectarian violence
-- no disarmament of the militias
-- no national oil revenue-sharing law
-- no increase in the number of Iraqi security forces able to operate independently
-- no legislation on de-Baathification.

There are now 160,000 U.S. troops in the country -- the most since the war began in 2003. Kerry said the lack of progress cast doubt on the wisdom of Bush’s decision to send more troops:

"The fundamental purpose of the surge was to give the Iraqi government breathing room to make the decisions necessary, to be able to achieve the benchmarks," Kerry said. "And when we see after its full implementation those benchmarks are as far from being reached as they are, it is hard to draw any assessment except that there is a failing grade for a policy that is still not working.”

Walker told the committee that the benchmarks measured progress in economic, political, and security terms, but that the least amount of progress had been made on the political front.

On the question of where the security situation stands, Walker pointed to the Al-Anbar Governorate as the clearest success but said it was not necessarily representative of the rest of the country:

"There's no question there's been progress in Anbar Province," Walker said. "But Anbar Province is not Baghdad. And Anbar Province is not representative of other provinces in Iraq. It's Sunni dominated. The issues there are primarily dealing with Al-Qaeda and primarily Sunni on Sunni challenges there. But there's no question there's been progress there. The question is: which of that is transferable?"

And in response to a senator’s question about whether Iraqi security forces are able to hold and secure neighborhoods that have been cleared of insurgents by U.S. forces, the GAO chief said he had his doubts.

"There's a significant question as to whether or not Iraqi security forces will be able to maintain the safety and security in these areas absent direct U.S. troop involvement because, as we all know, most Iraqi security forces require significant support from the United States in the form of logistics, in the form of intelligence, and other types of activities," he said.

In July, the White House released its own assessment of the same set of benchmarks the GAO looked at. It gave “satisfactory” marks to eight and said two had mixed results. No criteria were given, which led critics to call the assessment vague.

In its report, the GAO looked closely at factors within each benchmark. For example, Bush said Iraqi politicians had made satisfactory progress in reviewing its constitution, whereas the GAO ruled they had failed because the process was not complete. Bush said there were three satisfactory Iraqi brigades, but the GAO questioned whether its members were still loyal to militias and actually showed up for work.

But at today’s hearing, the ranking Republican committee member, Richard Lugar, asked whether too much emphasis was being placed on the idea of meeting benchmarks.

He cautioned against judging the troop surge a success or failure based on a random grade, saying the progress markers only told part of the story of what’s happening in Iraq:

"For the most part benchmarks measure the official actions of Iraqi government leaders and the current status of Iraq`s political and economic rebuilding effort," Lugar said. "This is an important starting point. But pass or fail grades on a set of benchmarks are not necessarily predictive of ultimate success or failure."

The release of the GAO report marks the beginning of a critical test for Bush’s war strategy and it is one of three assessments on the war that Congress will be getting this month.

Next week a retired general will deliver an assessment of the Iraqi security forces and then the top commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker will testify about their conclusions. Bush is set to deliver his own report to Congress by September 15.

Republicans have so far remained loyal to the president and prevented Democrats from gaining enough votes to cut off funding for the war, as many would like to. But with polls showing a nation eager to bring the troops home, and next fall’s election campaign already underway, even the president’s biggest defenders are hoping to see measurable success soon.

From RFE

Excerpts from the GAO Report

The following are the specific comments from the report about each of the 18 'benchmarks':

1. Forming a constitutional review committee and completing the constitutional review.

GAO Assessment as of August 30, 2007: Not met

Issue: Iraq’s Constitution was approved in a national referendum in October 2005, but did not resolve several contentious issues, such as claims over disputed areas including oil-rich Kirkuk. Amending the Constitution is critical to reaching national agreement on power sharing among Iraq’s political blocs and furthering national reconciliation, according to Iraqi leaders, U.S. officials, and the Iraq Study Group report.

Status: Although the Iraqi legislature formed a Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) in November 2006, the review process is not yet complete. First, the review committee’s work is not finished. In a May 23, 2007 report, the CRC recommended a package of constitutional amendments to the Iraq Council of Representatives. However, the package did not resolve the powers of the presidency; disputed territories, including Kirkuk; and the relative powers of the regions versus the federal government. The CRC received an extension until the end of August 2007 to help resolve the outstanding issues, but, according to the chairman of the CRC, Iraq’s major political groups need to reach agreement on these issues. Second, once resolved, the Iraqi legislature must approve the package of amendamendments by an absolute majority vote. Finally, if a package of amendments is approved, the Iraqi people will need to vote on the amendments in a referendum within 2 months after the legislature approves them.

2. Enacting and implementing legislation on de-Ba’athification reform.

GAO Assessment as of August 30, 2007: Not met

Issue: Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) Order 1 dissolved the Ba’athist party, removed Ba’athist leaders and senior party members from government, and banned them from future employment in the public sector. The CPA further provided for investigation and removal of even junior members of the party from upper-level management in government ministries, universities, and hospitals. Most of Iraqi’s technocratic class was pushed out of government due to de-Ba’athification and many Sunni Arabs remain angry about policies to de-Ba’athify Iraqi society, according to the Iraq Study Group report.

Status: Although Iraqi leaders have drafted several pieces of legislation to reform de-Ba’athification, none has sufficient support among Iraq’s political factions to have a first reading in the Iraqi legislature, according to U.S. officials. No consensus exists on reforming the current de-Ba’athification policy and many Iraqis are concerned by the prospects of former Ba’athist tormenters returning to power. However, according to an August 2007 U.S. interagency report, Iraq’s senior Shi’a and Sunni Arab and Kurdish political leaders signed a Unity Accord, including consensus on draft legislation on de-Ba’thification reform. Such a law would need to be drafted, passed by the Council of Representatives, and implemented.

According to U.S. officials, reforms to the law would more likely promote reconciliation if the reforms target Ba’athists who had command responsibility within the party or committed human rights violations or other crimes.2 Removing individuals based purely on party membership increases the chances that segments of the Iraqi public will see the system as unfair, according to these officials. Draft legislation on de-Ba’athification reform, dated July 2007 before the Unity Accord, provides for a special commission, a panel of judges to make decisions, and the right to appeal the panel’s decisions. The draft legislation also specifies that the commission will be dissolved 6 months after the law is passed.

3. Enacting and implementing legislation to ensure the equitable distribution of hydrocarbon resources of the people of Iraq without regard to the sect or ethnicity of recipients, and enacting and implementing legislation to ensure that the energy resources of Iraq benefit Sunni Arabs, Shi’a Arabs, Kurds, and other Iraqi citizens in an equitable manner.

GAO Assessment as of August 30, 2007: Not met

Issue: The importance of oil revenues for the Iraqi economy is widely recognized, as is the need to create a new legal framework for the development and management of the country’s oil sector. The oil sector accounts for over half of Iraq’s gross domestic product and over 90 percent of its revenues. The timely and equitable distribution of these revenues is essential to Iraq’s ability to provide for its needs, including the reconstruction of a unified Iraq.

Status: The government of Iraq has not enacted and implemented any of the four separate yet interrelated pieces of legislation needed to ensure the equitable distribution of hydrocarbon resources. As of August 2007, the Iraqi government had drafted three pieces of legislation: (1) hydrocarbon framework legislation that establishes the structure, management, and oversight for the oil sector; (2) revenue-sharing legislation; and (3) legislation restructuring the Ministry of Oil. However, none of the legislation is currently under consideration by Iraq’s parliament (Council of Representatives). A fourth piece of legislation establishing the Iraq National Oil Company (INOC) has not been drafted, according to State officials.

Hydrocarbon framework legislation was approved by the Iraqi cabinet (Council of Ministers) in February 2007, and sent to the Oil and Gas Committee of Iraq’s parliament for review in July 2007. However, before the legislation was submitted to the parliament, the Iraqi government amended the draft to address substantive changes made by the Shura council. According to State, the Shura council reviews draft legislation to ensure constitutionality and to avoid contradictions with Iraq’s legal system, including Islamic law. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) did not agree to the council’s revisions. Accordingly, the Oil and Gas Committee chairman is taking no legislative action until the Iraqi cabinet and the KRG agree on a new draft, according to State. It is not clear if this legislation will include annexes intended to allocate the control of particular oil fields and exploration areas to either the central or regional governments. According to the Iraqi government, the annexes remain under consideration.

Revenue-sharing legislation is intended to ensure the equitable distribution of Iraq’s financial resources, including oil and gas revenues. The central government and the KRG agreed on draft revenue-sharing legislation2 in June 2007. However, the Iraqi cabinet has not yet approved the legislation and submitted it to Iraq’s parliament for consideration.

This draft legislation is linked to proposed amendments to the Iraqi Constitution regarding the role of the federal government and regions and the management of oil revenues. Under the existing Constitution, if there is a contradiction between regional and national law with respect to a matter outside the exclusive authority of the federal government, regional law takes priority and regional powers have the right to amend the application of the national legislation within that region. As oil revenue sharing is not a power exclusively reserved for the federal government in the existing Constitution, according to officials, regions may determine how and whether they share locally generated oil revenues with the remainder of Iraq, regardless of what is stated in the federal law.3 In response, the Iraqi Constitutional Review Committee has proposed amendments to the Constitution that would provide for the national collection and distribution of oil revenues.

Legislation restructuring the Ministry of Oil has been drafted but has not yet been submitted to the Council of Ministers, according to State.

Legislation establishing the Iraq National Oil Company (INOC) is being drafted, according to State.

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

GAO Assessment as of August 30, 2007: Partially met

Issue: Iraq’s Constitution requires the Council of Representatives to enact a law that defines the executive procedures needed to form regions within 6 months of the date of its first session. Some Iraqi legislators believe that the right to form regions, with authority similar to the Kurdistan region, would help protect their rights.

Status: In October 2006, the Iraqi legislature passed a law establishing procedures to form regions, but the law delays implementation for 18 months.2 According to U.S. officials, this means that no steps to form regions, such as holding provincial referendums, can be taken before April 2008. According to State, this is in the best interests of Iraq as it will allow the government to deal with some outstanding issues. The United Nations has identified two issues that may impact implementation of this law—the ongoing review of Iraq’s Constitution and the capacity of new regional governments.

According to members of Iraq’s Constitutional Review Committee (CRC), the law on procedures to form regions was delayed for 18 months to allow the constitutional review process to be completed. Some of the proposed amendments to the constitution would clarify the powers of the federal government versus regions and governorates For example, according to the United Nations, the CRC proposed amendments that would give federal law priority over regional law with respect to water, customs, ports, and oil and revenue sharing. Other proposed amendments would give the federal government exclusive power over electricity generation, railways, and pension funds.3 Moreover, the constitutional review could also help resolve the status of disputed areas, which could impact regional boundaries. Until the constitutional review is completed and the constitutional referendum is held, residents in areas considering regional formation may not have all the information they need to make decisions.

The capability of the regions to govern themselves will also impact implementation of the law. Article 121 of the Constitution accords significant executive, judicial, and management authorities to the regions. The regions have responsibility for maintaining their internal security forces, administering allocations from national revenues, and maintaining representational offices in embassies and consuls. Moreover, the law on formation of regions provides that once formed, the regions must undertake to create elected provisional legislative councils. According to the United Nations, this will require a substantial investment of resources and significant management responsibility. GAO has reported on significant shortages of competent personnel in national ministries charged with delivering services to the Iraqi people; moreover, these shortages are greater at the provincial level of government, according to State and USAID officials. We have also reported that the poor security situation and high levels of violence have contributed to the continued and accelerating “brain drain” of professional Iraqis that would be needed to manage the new regional administrations.

5. Enacting and implementing legislation establishing an Independent High Electoral Commission, provincial elections law, provincial council authorities, and a date for provincial elections.

GAO Assessment as of August 30, 2007: Not met

Issue: When provincial elections were first held on January 2005, many Sunnis boycotted the election, resulting in largely Shi’a and Kurd provincial councils in provinces with majority Sunni populations. To redress the under-representation of Sunnis in provincial councils, Iraq needs to hold new provincial elections, but must first establish an electoral commission, write provincial election laws, define provincial powers so voters know the stakes, and set a date for elections.

Status: Although the government of Iraq has enacted and implemented legislation establishing an Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), it has not enacted and implemented legislation establishing a provincial elections law, provincial council authorities, or a date for provincial elections.

-- Although the government of Iraq has enacted and implemented legislation to establish an IHEC, certain steps still remain in establishing the commission. According to the U.S. government, the Council of Representatives (COR) passed the IHEC Law on January 23, 2007, and subsequently appointed the nine IHEC Commissioners, as required under the law, in a process the UN deemed in compliance with international standards. However, a provision in the IHEC law requires the COR to nominate and the Board of Commissioners to appoint the directors of the Governorate Electoral Offices in each province. Twelve of these positions are vacant, but, according to State, the process of appointing the directors is progressing. The law also requires the IHEC to establish and update a voter registry in collaboration with the Governorate and Regional Electoral Offices. However, before they can complete an update of the voter registry (which was last updated in mid-2005), an election law must be enacted that defines the residency and voter eligibility requirements. Finally, the IHEC still needs a budget to fund its activities.

-- Iraq has not enacted and implemented legislation for provincial elections. According to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the Prime Minster’s office is drafting legislation governing provincial elections, including setting a date for elections to occur. However, according to the Embassy, some key political parties are hesitant to hold provincial elections due to concerns that they will lose representation, potentially to more extreme parties. Additionally, several parties are demanding that any election law ensure that eligible refugees and internally displaced persons be allowed to vote.

-- Provincial powers legislation, which will define the authorities and structures of local governments, has not been enacted and implemented. According to the U.S. government, the draft legislation has been approved and submitted to the Council of Representatives, where it has had two of the three required readings. However, the U.S. government reported in July 2007 that changes were being considered, particularly related to the powers of the governor and the authority of the federal government at the local level. The U.S. Embassy cited key issues with the draft, including that it cedes most power to the provinces. The United Nations pointed out that the draft fails to clarify the role of the governorate and that the draft law does not deal adequately with the effective delivery of public goods and services in the governorates. According to the U.S. Embassy, on July 8, 2007, the relevant COR committee presented a report outlining suggested changes to the law, some of which the Embassy supported.

-- The government of Iraq has not set a date for provincial elections. The Iraq Study Group emphasized the need for provincial elections at the earliest possible date. The Embassy is urging the Iraqi government to take the legislative and administrative action necessary to ensure timely and fair elections. According to the U.S. Embassy, it is intensively engaged with the Iraqi government and the COR at all levels to expedite legislation or amendments to existing legislation that will allow provincial elections to take place and secure funding for elections.

In comments on this appendix, State said that this benchmark should be partially met since the Iraq High Electoral Commission has been established and the benchmark calls only for its establishment. However, the benchmark requires more than the establishment of the IHEC, and Iraq has not enacted and implemented a provincial elections law, provincial council authorities, or a date for provincial elections, as required by the benchmark.

6. Enacting and implementing legislation addressing amnesty.

GAO Assessment as of August 30, 2007: Not met

Issue: Iraqi government officials believe that amnesty for insurgents and others who have not committed terrorist acts is an important tool to promote reconciliation and could help pacify insurgents. In addition, the Iraqi government and coalition forces hold thousands of detainees, some of whom could be eligible for an amnesty program when conditions are right.

Status: The Iraqi government has not drafted legislation on amnesty, according to U.S. officials, and the conditions for a successful program are not present. As figure 2 in the cover letter shows, many steps remain in the legislative process, including drafting the legislation and obtaining approval in the Iraqi cabinet and Council of Representatives. However, the government of Iraq is not pressing for the development of amnesty legislation.

-- Although amnesty was proposed as part of the Prime Minister’s national reconciliation plan in June 2006, little progress has been made. The plan called for issuing amnesty to prisoners not involved in crimes against humanity or terrorist acts. At that time, the Iraqi government announced that it would release 2,500 detainees; 2,500 prisoners were subsequently released. According to U.S. officials in Baghdad, no large-scale releases have been made since 2006, and there has been little discussion of amnesty since then. However, the Prime Minister’s office and Iraq’s Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration Committee sponsored a workshop on amnesty in May 2007. The workshop recommended that amnesty should not proceed, but rather should result from national reconciliation and that the government’s military has to be superior to armed groups as a condition for offering amnesty.

-- The scope of an amnesty program is also an issue. The United Nations takes the position that in considering the categories of perpetrators to be included or excluded in amnesty, international law does not allow amnesty to be granted to those who committed genocide, crimes against humanity, or other serious violations of international humanitarian law. In addition, Iraqi government officials have recommended that an amnesty program consider all detained individuals held by Iraq and by coalition forces. There are currently thousands of detainees, including over 24,000 held by coalition forces. According to multinational force officials, there could be considerably more detainees in the future as the Baghdad security plan progresses. The Coalition’s Task Force 134 is building and expanding prison facilities to accommodate additional detainees.

7. Enacting and implementing legislation establishing a strong militia disarmament program to ensure that such security forces are accountable only to the central government and loyal to the Constitution of Iraq.

GAO Assessment as of August 30, 2007: Not met

Issue: Militias contribute to the high levels of violence in Iraq, are responsible for sectarian killings, fuel ongoing corruption, and have heavily infiltrated the Iraqi army and national police. Efforts to dissolve or bring militias under control have been ongoing since 2004. In March 2007, 77 percent of Iraqis in a nationwide poll agreed that militias should be dissolved.

Status: The Iraqi government has not drafted legislation on disarming militias. CPA Order 91, issued in 2004, prohibited armed forces and militias within Iraq, except for those allowed under the Order.2 Multiple steps are needed to enact and implement further legislation to disarm militias. More importantly, according to U.S. officials, conditions are not right for a traditional disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration program (DDR); accordingly, there is currently no momentum in the government of Iraq for such a program. Thus, militias pose a severe challenge to stability and reconciliation in Iraq.

-- Militias have contributed to the high levels of violence in Iraq. According to the Defense Intelligence Agency Director, the Jayash al-Mahdi (the militia associated with Muqtada al Sadr), often operates under the protection or approval of Iraqi police to detain and kill suspected Sunni insurgents and civilians. A June 2007 Defense Department report further notes that many Jayash al-Mahdi fighters have left Baghdad as a result of expanded coalition and Iraqi presence. They now engage in ethnic and sectarian violence in northern and central Iraq and have increased conflict with the Badr Organization in southern Iraq leading to a significant increase in attacks against the coalition in Basrah. The June 2007 report also states that Shi’a militia infiltration of the Ministry of Interior is a problem. Militia influence impacts every component of the Ministry, particularly in Baghdad and other key cities.

-- Despite the challenge the militias pose, little progress has been made to disarm and demobilize them. Nine parties, with militias numbering an estimated 100,000 fighters, agreed to a transition and reintegration process in 2004. The Coalition Provisional Authority estimated that 90 percent of these fighters would complete the transition and reintegration process by January 2005. However, according to the administration’s July 15, 2007 report, no armed group has committed to disarm. Moreover, according to U.S. officials in Baghdad, the Iraqi DDR commission has not developed a plan for DDR and has not received funding for its work.

8. Establish supporting political, media, economic, and services committees in support of the Baghdad Security Plan.

GAO Assessment as of August 30, 2007: Met

Issue: The U.S. and Iraqi governments began the current Baghdad security plan2 in mid-February 2007 to stem the violence in Baghdad and surrounding areas. During the summer of 2006, MNF-I and the Iraqi security forces implemented two other plans to secure Baghdad, but these operations failed to reduce violence for a variety of reasons. Unlike the earlier operations, the current Baghdad Security Plan encompasses political, economic, and security activities that the Iraqi government needed to coordinate at the national level.

Status: In February 2007, the Iraqi government created the Executive Steering Committee (the executive committee) and six subcommittees to coordinate political, economic and military activities and make decisions in support of the Baghdad Security Plan. According to a Department of State official, the executive committee’s major objective was to increase the coordination and capacity of the Iraqi government to improve the quality of life of Baghdad’s population as part of the Baghdad Security Plan. Each of the subcommittees addresses one of six issues related to the plan’s implementation: economics, services, political, communication, popular mobilization, and security. The executive committee and subcommittees meet on a weekly basis.

The committees consist of Iraqi and U.S. participants. The Iraqi Prime Minister chairs the executive committee, while senior-level Iraqi ministry officials chair the various subcommittees. For example, a deputy prime minister chairs the economic subcommittee and the services subcommittee. Representatives from the relevant Iraqi ministries serve on each subcommittee. Two senior U.S. officials are observers to the executive committee and attend its weekly meetings. A senior MNF-I or U.S. embassy official is also assigned to each subcommittee. This official provides advice on the subcommittees’ agendas and other support when called upon.

According to a Department of State official, the executive committee and subcommittees have worked to ensure that the Iraqi government provided sufficient Iraqi forces to assist MNF-I in implementing the Baghdad Security Plan. For example, when the Iraqi Army provided brigades that were not at full strength, the executive committee and security subcommittee identified forces from other parts of the country to move to Baghdad. The committees also found ways to house and feed the Iraqi troops supporting the security plan. In addition, the communication subcommittee has helped publicize the security plan’s goals and the other subcommittees’ efforts to get resources to Baghdad districts that have been cleared of insurgents.

We did not assess the effectiveness of the executive committee or subcommittees in providing overall coordination and supporting the implementation of the Baghdad Security Plan. However, the administration’s July 2007 report to Congress stated that the effectiveness of each committee varied.

9. Provide three trained and ready Iraqi brigades to support Baghdad operations.

GAO Assessment as of August 30, 2007: Partially met

Issue: During the summer of 2006, a large number of Iraqi security forces refused to deploy to Baghdad to conduct operations in support of the previous Baghdad Security Plans. In January 2007, the President said that the Iraqi government had agreed to resolve this problem under the current plan and had committed three additional Iraqi brigades to support the new plan.

Status: Since February 2007, the Iraqi government deployed nine Iraqi army battalions equaling three brigades for 90-day rotations to support the Baghdad Security Plan. In the July 2007 report, the administration stated that the Iraqi government had difficulty deploying three additional army brigades to Baghdad at sufficient strength. In commenting on our draft report, DOD stated that current present for duty rates for deployed units is 75 percent of authorized strength However, the July 2007 administration report stated that the government has deployed battalions from multiple Iraqi Army divisions to provide the required three brigade-equivalent forces to support the Baghdad security plan. After the initial deployment of the required brigades, the Iraqi government began the rotation plan. 19 units have currently deployed in support of the Baghdad security plan. Several of these units voluntarily extended, and others were rotated every 90 days in accordance with the plan. In addition, all of the Iraqi units had pre-deployment training to support operations in Baghdad. The administration’s July 2007 report states that progress toward this benchmark has been satisfactory, and the overall effect has been satisfactory in that three brigades are operating in Baghdad.

However, in commenting on this report, DOD stated that performance of the units currently supporting Baghdad operations has been varied. Some units had performed exceptionally well, proven themselves and raised their readiness ratings. Others had marked time and slowly regressed over their 90-day deployment. Of the 19 Iraqi units that had supported operations in Baghdad, 5 units had performed well while the remaining had proven to be problematic for several reasons: lack of personnel, lack of individual fighting equipment and lack of vehicles to conduct their assigned missions. We obtained classified information that indicates other problems with these Iraqi army units. Our classified briefing report provides more information on this benchmark.

10. Providing Iraqi commanders with all authorities to execute this plan and to make tactical and operational decisions, in consultation with U.S commanders, without political intervention, to include the authority to pursue all extremists, including Sunni insurgents and Shi’ite militias.

GAO Assessment as of August 30, 2007: Not met

Issue: As stated in the President’s January 10, 2007, speech on the Baghdad security plan, previous Baghdad security plans failed, in part, because Iraqi political and sectarian interference prevented forces from taking action against militias. According to the administration’s initial assessment, Iraq’s Prime Minister stated that political or sectarian interference in the affairs of the Iraqi security forces will not be tolerated, and actions have been taken to address political intervention.

Status: In July 2007, the administration reported that the government of Iraq has not made satisfactory progress toward providing Iraqi commanders with all authorities to execute the Baghdad security plan and to make tactical and operational decisions in consultation with U.S. commanders without political intervention. The report noted that political intervention in the conduct of some security operations continues even though new rules of engagement for the Baghdad Operational Command have come into effect and commanders have been given the authority to attack insurgents and militias.

According to U.S. officials and other experts, sectarian and political interference in the conduct of military operations continues. Tribal and ethno-sectarian loyalties remain strong within many Iraqi military units, hindering efforts to take actions against militias. These loyalties are often the basis for relationships between key officers in units and higher-level authorities who are not always in the direct chain of command. For example, sectarian militias control many local police. Additionally, some army units sent to Baghdad have mixed loyalties, and some have had ties to Shi’a militias making it difficult to target Shi’a extremist networks.

Further, according to DOD, evidence exists of target lists emanating from the Office of the Commander in Chief that bypassed operational commanders and directed lower-level intelligence officers and commanders to make arrests, primarily of Sunnis. In addition, sectarian bias in the appointment of senior military and police commanders continues, giving rise to suspicions that political considerations may drive Iraqi commanders’ decisions about which operations to undertake or support.

In commenting on this benchmark, DOD noted that all 9 of the brigade commanders and 17 of the 27 national police battalion commanders have been replaced for failure to command or enforce non-sectarian operations.

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

GAO Assessment as of August 30, 2007: Not met

Issue: During 2006, according to a Department of State human rights report, the Iraqi security forces committed serious human rights violations in Baghdad and other areas of Iraq. These actions added to the increasing violence against the civilian population during 2006. In support of the Baghdad security plan, the Iraqi Prime Minister pledged to provide even-handed enforcement of the law.

Status: According to U.S. reports, the government of Iraq has not ensured that the Iraqi security forces are providing even-handed enforcement of the law. In May 2007, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom2 reported that Iraq’s Shi’a-dominated government bears responsibility for engaging in sectarian-based human rights violations, as well as tolerating abuses committed by Shi’a militias with ties to political factions in the governing coalition. According to the commission, the Iraqi government through its security forces has committed arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention without due process, targeted executions, and torture against non-Shi’a Iraqis. In committing these abuses, the security forces target Sunnis on the basis of their religious identity, as well as terrorists and insurgents.

Furthermore, the commission reported that the Iraqi government tolerates and fails to control religiously motivated attacks and other abuses carried out by Shi’a militias, specifically Jayash al-Mahdi and Badr Organization. These militias have targeted Sunnis on the basis of their religious identity and have committed such abuses as abductions, beatings, targeted killings, intimidation, forced resettlement, murder, rape, and torture. According to the commission’s report, relationships between these militias and leading Shi’a factions within Iraq’s ministries and governing coalition indicate that the Jayash al-Mahdi and Badr Organization are parastate actors operating with impunity or even with governmental complicity.

In mid-August 2007, Department of State officials stated that the Iraqi government and security forces continue to engage in sectarian-based abuses. State’s March 2007 human rights report3 cited widely reported incidents of unauthorized government agent involvement in extrajudicial killings throughout the country. These incidents included Shi’a militia members wearing police uniforms and driving police cars in carrying out killings and kidnapping in the southern city of Basra. In addition, death squads affiliated with the Ministry of Interior targeted Sunnis and conducted kidnapping raids in Baghdad and its environs, largely with impunity.

The administration’s July 2007 report stated that the Iraqi government and many Iraqi security force units are still applying the law on a sectarian basis when left on their own. The report attributed any progress made by the security forces in enforcing the law more even-handedly to the presence of coalition units and embedded training teams, rather than to the Iraqi government.

12. Ensuring that, according to President Bush, Prime Minister Maliki said ‘‘the Baghdad security plan will not provide a safe haven for any outlaws, regardless of [their] sectarian or political affiliation.”

GAO Assessment as of August 30, 2007: Partially met

Issue: As stated in the President’s January 10, 2007, speech on the Baghdad security plan, previous plans to secure Baghdad have failed, in part, because political and sectarian interference and rules of engagement in place for those plans prevented Iraqi and coalition forces from entering neighborhoods that are safe havens to those fueling the sectarian violence. On January 6, 2007, the Iraqi Prime Minister stated, “The Baghdad security plan will not offer a safe shelter for outlaws regardless of their ethnic and political affiliations, and we will punish anyone who hesitates to implement orders because of his ethnic and political background.”

Status: Although the Iraqi government has allowed MNF-I to conduct operations in all areas of Baghdad, temporary safe havens still exist due to strong sectarian loyalties and militia infiltration of security forces. According to State, terrorist safe havens are defined as ungoverned, under-governed, or ill-governed areas of a country and non-physical areas where terrorists that constitute a threat to U.S. national security interests are able to organize, plan, raise funds, communicate, recruit, train, and operate in relative security because of inadequate governance capacity, political will, or both.

U.S. commanders report overall satisfaction with their ability to target any and all extremist groups. In commenting on our draft report, DOD stated that coalition forces and Iraqi security forces conducted over eighty operations that span each sector of Sadr City from January to August 2007. According to DOD, the surge has resulted in significant reductions in safe havens for al Qaeda in Iraq inside Baghdad and in al Anbar and Diyala provinces. In previous Baghdad operations, the Iraqi government prevented Iraqi and coalition forces from going into Sadr City. Although MNF-I conducts operations in Sadr City, MNF-I and Iraqi security forces maintain only one Joint Security Station on the border of Sadr City, with none within the city itself (see fig. 4). In addition to Joint Security Stations, MNF-I established about 30 coalition outposts throughout Baghdad, including one on the border of Sadr City.

However, due to sectarian influence and infiltration of Iraqi security forces and support from the local population, anti-coalition forces retain the freedom to organize and conduct operations against coalition forces. Thus temporary safe havens still exist in Baghdad, which supports a rating of partially met. A June 2007 DOD report describes some of the conditions that allow safe havens to exist. For example, the Shi’a militia continues to function as the de facto government in Sadr City. Further, militia influence impacts every component of the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior, particularly in Baghdad and several other key cities, according to the DOD report.

Our classified briefing report provides more information on the existence of safe havens.

13. Reducing the level of sectarian violence in Iraq and eliminating militia control of local security.

GAO Assessment as of August 30, 2007: Not met

Issue: During 2006, according to State and UN reports,2 insurgents, death squads, militias, and terrorists increased their attacks against civilians, largely on a sectarian basis. In addition, the number of internally displaced persons in Iraq sharply increased following the February 2006 bombing of the Samarra mosque, primarily as a result of sectarian intimidation and violence that forced many people from their homes. By the end of 2006, according to the UN, many Baghdad neighborhoods had become divided along Sunni and Shi’a lines and were increasingly controlled by armed groups claiming to act as protectors and defenders of these areas.3 In January 2007, the President announced that the United States would increase force levels in Iraq to help the Iraqis carry out their campaign to reduce sectarian violence and bring security to Baghdad.

Status: While it is not clear if sectarian violence has been reduced, militia control over security forces has not been eliminated and remains a serious problem in Baghdad and other areas of Iraq.

According to the administration’s July 2007 report to Congress, MNF-I data showed a decrease in sectarian violence, particularly in Baghdad, since the start of the Baghdad security plan. MNF-I counts sectarian incidents and murders in determining trends in sectarian violence.4 The administration’s July 2007 report concluded that the Iraqi government, with substantial coalition assistance, had made satisfactory progress toward reducing sectarian violence. The report acknowledged that precise measurements vary, and it was too early to determine if the decrease would be sustainable.

GAO cannot determine whether sectarian violence in Iraq has been reduced because measuring such violence requires understanding the perpetrator’s intent, which may not be known. The number of attacks targeting civilians and population displacement resulting from sectarian violence may serve as additional indicators. For example, as displayed in figure 5, the average number of daily attacks against civilians remained about the same over the last six months. The decrease in total average daily attacks in July is largely due to a decrease in attacks on coalition forces rather than civilians.

While overall attacks declined in July compared with June, levels of violence remain high. Enemy initiated attacks have increased around major religious and political events, including Ramadan and elections.5 For 2007, Ramadan is scheduled to begin in mid-September.

The August 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq6 (NIE) also reports that the level of overall violence in Iraq, including attacks on and casualties among civilians, remains high. Further, the NIE states that Iraq’s security will continue to improve modestly, but that levels of insurgent and sectarian violence will remain high over the next 6 to 12 months. Similarly, recent March and June 2007 United Nations reports state that attacks against civilians persist and the continuing systematic, widespread attacks against the civilian population in Iraq are tantamount to crimes against humanity and violate the laws of war.

The violence in Iraq has resulted in a large number of Iraqis displaced from their homes. A report by the Iraqi Red Crescent Organization found that internally displaced persons increased from about 499,000 in February 2007 to about 1,128,000 in July 2007. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that an additional 1.8 million Iraqi citizens were displaced to nearby countries, primarily to Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, and Egypt. The UNHCR predicted that 40,000 to 50,000 people will continue to be displaced each month even if the security plan succeeds in solving the displacement problem. Currently, the number of displaced persons is increasing at an average of 80,000 to 100,000 each month, according to the Red Crescent.

The August 2007 National Intelligence Estimate for Iraq stated that population displacement resulting from sectarian violence continues, imposing burdens on provincial governments and some neighboring states. As the International Organization for Migration and the UN recently reported, most of Iraq’s internally displaced persons are moving from mixed areas7 to seek refuge in homogeneous areas, largely because of direct threats or forcible displacement from their homes due to their religious and sectarian identities. Where population displacements have led to significant sectarian separation, according to the August 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, conflict levels have diminished to some extent because warring communities find it more difficult to penetrate communal enclaves.

Our classified report provides further information on trends associated with violence in Iraq.

Militia control over local security forces – the second part of the benchmark—has not been eliminated. Numerous U.S. and UN reports have stated that militias still retain significant control or influence over local security in parts of Baghdad and other areas of Iraq. For example, in July 2007, the administration reported that militia presence is still strong and will likely remain so until the security situation begins to stabilize. The report stated that the Iraqi government has made unsatisfactory progress towards eliminating militia control of local security, which continues to negatively affect the public perception of the authority and fairness of the Iraqi government. In addition, DOD’s June 2007 report to Congress called militia influence of local police a significant problem and added that some security forces remain prone to intimidation by, or collusion with, criminal gangs. Further, the Department of State’s human rights report characterized Iraqi police effectiveness as seriously compromised by militias and sectarianism, with rampant corruption and a culture of impunity. Finally, in March 2007, the United Nations reported cases of possible collusion between armed militia and Iraqi security forces in raids and security operations, as well as the failure of these security forces to intervene and prevent kidnapping and murder and other crimes.

14. Establishing all of the planned joint security stations in neighborhoods across Baghdad.

GAO Assessment as of August 30, 2007: Met

Issue: Past Baghdad security plans failed, in part, because the coalition and Iraqi forces did not hold neighborhoods after clearing them of insurgents. The current Baghdad security plan and the related increase of U.S. and Iraqi forces into Baghdad is intended to clear insurgents, militias, and organized criminal gangs from neighborhoods; maintain a security presence in those areas; and provide for follow-on assistance efforts. As part of this effort, MNF-I and Iraqi security forces are establishing Joint Security Stations across Baghdad to improve population protection by providing a continuous presence in Baghdad’s neighborhoods.

Status: As of August 9, 2007, the Iraqi government, with substantial coalition assistance, had established 32 of the 34 planned Joint Security Stations in Baghdad (see fig. 6). This figure includes Joint Security Stations that had achieved initial or full operational capability.

Joint Security Stations are staffed by Iraqi local police, national police, and army personnel, as well as coalition forces. According to the administration’s July 2007 report, the security stations are designed to improve population protection by providing a 24-hour security presence in Baghdad neighborhoods. They also allow greater oversight of Iraqi security forces by U.S. military personnel.

15. Increasing the number of Iraqi security forces’ units capable of operating independently.

GAO Assessment: Not met

Issue: In August 2003, the Coalition Provisional Authority dissolved the Iraqi military and began the process of rebuilding the Iraqi military and police. Since 2003, the United States has provided about $19.2 billion to train and equip about 350,000 Iraqi soldiers and police officers, in an effort to develop Iraqi security forces, transfer security responsibilities to them and the Iraqi government, and ultimately withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. The coalition began embedding transition teams with Iraqi security forces in 2005 to help develop their ability to conduct counterinsurgency operations. These teams use the Operational Readiness Assessment process to evaluate the readiness of Iraqi security force units to conduct operations with or without coalition support.

Status: While the Iraqi security forces have grown in size and are increasingly leading counterinsurgency operations, the number of Iraqi army units operating independently decreased between March 2007 and July 2007.3 According to the administration’s July 2007 report, an Iraqi unit can be considered independent if it has achieved an Operational Readiness Assessment rating of level 1, which means it is capable of planning, executing, and sustaining counterinsurgency operations.

Manning shortages as well as logistics and sustainment shortfalls have contributed to the decrease in the number of Iraqi battalions capable of operating independently, according to DOD reports. Sectarian and militia influences further complicate the development of Iraqi forces. In June 2007, DOD reported that while coalition forces are the target of most enemy attacks, Iraqi security forces and civilians account for the majority of casualties, contributing to the decline in the readiness of some Iraqi units. Attrition also has affected the Iraqi security forces. Annual attrition is estimated to be between 15 and 18 percent for the Iraqi army and between 20 and 22 percent for the police. In addition, according to a June 2007 report from DOD to Congress, only about 65 percent of authorized Iraqi personnel are in the field at any given time due to a liberal leave policy and absences without leave. To increase the number of soldiers on hand for operations, the Iraqi government and MNF-I decided that they will increase manning to 120 percent of authorization levels.

Due to Iraq’s immature logistics systems, many Iraqi military and police units will continue to depend on MNF-I for key sustainment and logistics support until December 2008. DOD reports that the Iraqi forces’ limited capacity in these areas hinders their ability to assume missions from MNF-I and requires continued development in some key areas through the end of 2008. For instance, DOD has set a December 2008 goal for the Iraqi government to provide day-to-day items such as food, water, and electricity to the Ministry of Defense’s National Depot. In addition, the Ministry of Interior aims to become self sufficient in procuring and managing repair parts by the end of 2008.

MNF-I and the Iraqi government continue to struggle with sectarian and militia influences while trying to develop the Iraqi security forces. Because of the sectarian leaning of some national police units, MNF-I is providing continuing oversight of Iraqi security forces. In addition, militia influence affects every component of the Ministry of the Interior, especially in Baghdad and other key cities, according to DOD. This influence, along with corruption and illegal activity, constrains progress in the development of Ministry of Interior forces.

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

GAO Assessment as of August 30, 2007: Met

Issue: Minority parties or groups had no rights under the former Ba’athist regime. Ensuring the rights of minority parties was a key Iraqi goal to ensure broad representation and fairness in the new Iraq.

Status: The rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature are protected through provisions in the Iraqi Constitution and the Council of Representatives’ by-laws. However, in practice, the rights of minorities throughout Iraq remain unprotected.

17. Allocating and spending $10 billion in Iraqi revenues for reconstruction projects, including delivery of essential services on an equitable basis.

GAO Assessment: Partially met

Issue: The President’s New Way Forward in Iraq identified Iraq’s inability to fully spend its own resources to rebuild its infrastructure and deliver essential services as a critical economic challenge to Iraq’s self-reliance. Iraqi government funds are a necessary source of financing for Iraq’s rebuilding effort, particularly since the United States has obligated most of the $40 billion it provided to Iraq for reconstruction since 2003. However, the government of Iraq has had difficulty spending its resources on capital projects. In 2006, the government spent only 22 percent of its non-provincial capital projects and reconstruction budget. Furthermore, in the critical oil sector, which provides over 90 percent of Iraq’s revenues, the government spent less than 3 percent of the $3.5 billion allocated for oil reconstruction projects in 2006. In its 2007 budget, Iraq committed to spending $10 billion on capital projects and reconstruction.

Status: The government of Iraq allocated $10 billion of its revenues for capital projects and reconstruction when it passed its 2007 budget in February 2007, including capital funds for the provinces based on their populations. However, available data from the government of Iraq and analysis from U.S. and coalition officials show that, while spending has increased compared with spending in 2006, a large portion of Iraq’s $10 billion capital projects and reconstruction budget in fiscal year 2007 will likely go unspent. Iraq’s Financial Management Law generally requires budgeted funds to be spent by the end of the fiscal year. The Ministry of Oil and the provinces (excluding the Kurdistan region) were allocated almost half of the government’s 2007 capital projects and reconstruction budget; however, they are unlikely to spend a large share of their budgets in 2007, according to U.S. and coalition officials. We are conducting a review of U.S. efforts to help Iraq spend its budget and will issue a separate report at a later date.

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

GAO Assessment as of August 30, 2007: Not met

Issue: According to U.S. government reporting, qualified Iraqi officers may be discouraged from operating in a professional, non-sectarian manner if Iraq’s political authorities undermine or make false accusations against members of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).

Status: Iraq’s political authorities continue to undermine and make false accusations against members of the ISF. According to U.S. government officials, little has changed since the U.S. Administration’s July 2007 Initial Benchmark Assessment. Each month the U.S. government receives reports alleging wrongdoing by ISF members considered by MNF-I to be non-sectarian in their approach to security. The U.S. assessment further stated that in most cases the U.S. government was unable to determine the validity of these allegations but believed them to be untrue. The assessment concluded that these accusations undermine the independence and non-sectarianism of the ISF and that the Iraqi government does not adequately address the accusations. According to MNF-I officials in Baghdad, some cases resulted in detention of military officers, but the cases did not provide justification or specific charges against the officers. Further information is classified.

The U.S. government further reported that anecdotal evidence suggests that Iraqi political authorities may not be pursuing allegations even-handedly. According to U.S. government reporting, the de-Ba’athification Commission fabricated charges to cleanse Sunni officers from military units, and the Office of Commander in Chief has issued questionable judicial warrants as a more recent technique to target Sunni commanders. In addition, the ISF’s formal command structure is compromised by influential sectarian leaders linked to the security ministries. These actions have reportedly led to the arrest and detention of several military officials. According to U.S. officials, this tactic is primarily used against Sunni Ministry of Defense officials and does not occur at the predominantly Shi’a Ministry of Interior. The U.S. government also reported that some Sunni politicians have made unsubstantiated claims against ISF officials. Moreover, Iraqi government support for the ISF has been uneven. Some members of the Council of Ministers and Council of Representatives have publicly supported ISF leaders while behind the scenes they continue to ignore sectarian activities, according to the U.S. government.

Read the entire GAO Report at USA Today (PDF file)

Related Link:
NIE: 'Security will continue to improve modestly during the next 6 to 12 months but... levels of insurgent and sectarian violence will remain high'