During his “surprise” visit to Iraq this past weekend, the President touted success in al-Anbar province as a reason to keep his failed escalation policy in place. Unfortunately, the President’s rhetoric does not match the reality on the ground in Iraq. According to the President himself, the troop escalation was meant to allow Iraq’s political leaders the time to reconcile their differences and build a sustainable government. According to today’s GAO report the Iraqi’s have by all accounts failed to achieve any political reconciliation. In addition, not only has the central government failed to meet benchmarks, the White House’s own spin is unraveling. Not only have the modest security gains in al-Anbar province made national reconciliation unlikely, they were well-underway prior to the surge. It is time for Republicans in Congress to work with Democrats to force a change of course in Iraq.
GAO outlines Iraqi government failure in meeting political benchmarks:
The GAO’s September Report on the War in Iraq Highlighted the Iraqi Government’s Failure in Meeting An Overwhelming Majority of its Benchmarks. According to the report, “As of August 30, 2007, the Iraqi government met 3, partially met 4, and did not meet 11 of its 18 benchmarks.” [GAO Report: Securing, Stabilizing and Rebuilding Iraq, September 2007]
Even the Three Benchmarks The Iraqi Government Has Met Were Minor In Scope. The three benchmarks the Iraqi Parliament did meet were: 1) Establish supporting political, media, economic, and services committees in support of the Baghdad security plan; 2) Establish all of the planned joint security stations in neighborhoods across Baghdad; and 3) Ensuring that the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature are protected. With the first benchmark the relevant committees were established. With the second, 32 of 34 stations were in fact established. As for the last, the GAO found that while the rights of minority legislators are being protected, the rights of minority citizens are not. [GAO Report: Securing, Stabilizing and Rebuilding Iraq, September 2007]
The Report Quoted a UN Report Calling the Violence Against Minority Sects in Iraq “Sectarian Polarization” and “Cleansing.” On the protection of minority rights of citizens, the GAO wrote, “According to the United Nations, attacks against religious and ethnic minorities continued unabated in most areas of Iraq, prompting these communities to seek ways to leave the country. The conflicts reportedly bear the mark of sectarian polarization and “cleansing” in neighborhoods formerly comprised of different religions. [GAO Report: Securing, Stabilizing and Rebuilding Iraq, September 2007]
The GAO Found of the Eight Legislative Benchmarks, the Iraqi Parliament Has Met One. “Our analysis shows that the Iraqi government has met one of the eight legislative benchmarks and partially met another. Specifically, the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature are protected through existing provisions in the Iraqi Constitution and Council of Representatives’ by-laws; however, minorities among the Iraqi population are vulnerable and their rights are often violated.” [GAO Report: Securing, Stabilizing and Rebuilding Iraq, September 2007]
Of the Nine Security Benchmarks, the GAO Found the Iraqi Parliament Met Two. “Our analysis shows that the Iraqi government has met two of the nine security benchmarks.” While the Iraqi government “has established political, communications, economic, and services committees in support of the Baghdad security plan and, with substantial coalition assistance, 32 of the planned 34 Joint Security Stations across Baghdad. Of the remaining 7 benchmarks, the Iraqi government partially met 2 and did not meet five.” The five benchmarks met are, 1) Reducing the level of sectarian violence in Iraq and eliminating militia control of local security. 2) 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 Shiite militias. 3) Ensuring that Iraqi security forces are providing even-handed enforcement of the law. 4) Increasing the number of Iraqi security forces’ units capable of operating independently. 5) Ensuring that Iraq’s political authorities are not undermining or making false accusations against members of the Iraqi security forces. [GAO Report: Securing, Stabilizing and Rebuilding Iraq, September 2007]
Contrary to Administration Talking Points, Attacks Against Iraqi Civilians Have Not Decreased. According to the GAO, “the average number of daily attacks against civilians remained about the same over the last six months. [GAO Report: Securing, Stabilizing and Rebuilding Iraq, September 2007]
U.S. Military Tallies for Iraqi Casualties Are Far Lower Than Iraqi Government Statistics, Do Not Include Car Bombings. According to U.S. military figures, an average of 1,000 Iraqis have died each month since March in sectarian violence. That compares with about 1,200 a month at the start of the security plan, the military said in an e-mailed response to queries. This does not include deaths from car bombings, which the military said have numbered more than 2,600 this year. Figures from Iraqi government ministries point to far higher casualty numbers and show that this year, an average of 1,724 civilians a month have died in sectarian attacks, bombings and other war-related violence. [Los Angeles Times, 9/4/07]
Spinning success in Anbar province:
On Monday, President Bush Asserted that the Modest Improvement in Security Situation in Anbar Province Showed the Escalation was Working……. In his remarks to the troops on Monday, President Bush said, “In Anbar you’re seeing firsthand the dramatic differences that can come when the Iraqis are more secure. In other words, you’re seeing success. You see Sunnis who once fought side by side with Al Qaeda against coalition troops now fighting side by side with coalition troops against Al Qaeda. Anbar is a huge province. It was once written off as lost. It is now one of the safest places in Iraq. [Speech by President Bush to Troops, 9/3/07]
…..However, By Secretary Gate’s Own Admission, Security Improvements in Anbar Province Happened Without the Influence of American Troops. Secretary of Defense Gates claimed the Sunni tribes decided to fight and retake control of Anbar from al-Qaeda many months before Bush decided to send an extra 4,000 Marines to Anbar as part of his troop buildup. “We have seen the fruit of that effort become more apparent in the last few months,” said Gates. Gates added, “it was the presence of the additional U.S. forces – the Marines that came in – that helped cement the gains they felt they had made but were at risk.” [AP, 9/3/07]
…..In Addition, In May White Press Secretary Tony Snow Admitted Gains in Anbar Province Were Already Underway Before the President’s Troop Escalation. During his May 2nd briefing, Snow was asked:
Q: But answer that question about al Anbar. I mean, the President, again, cited progress in Ramadi and al Anbar, because that seems where the most progress is, and that was before the new strategy.
SNOW: What you’re supposed to take is there’s good news. Thank you for reporting it.
Q: But it has nothing to do with the Baghdad security plan, but we keep tying it to it.
SNOW: …..when it was announced that there would be another 4,000 U.S. forces in Anbar, it did, in fact, have the effect of strengthening both the confidence and the resolve of the people there. There have been many attempts over time to try to roll back the progress that had been made there. As a matter of fact, that is not new. You’ve seen progress in places like Ramadi, and you’ve seen the resurgence of violence. In this particular case, you have seen an effective and extended period of success there that we hope will continue. And it is worth noting that as part of the Baghdad security plan there was also a complement of 4,000 U.S. forces that would be there to supplement ongoing efforts in Anbar. You’re right, the progress began before, but it has continued. [White House Press Secretary Briefing (emphasis added), 5/2/07]
One National Security Expert Said the Ground Situation in Anbar Province Had Little to Do with American Strategy. Anthony Cordesman, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the reversal in Anbar had less to do with American strategy than with local frustration over the extremism of Al Qaeda fighters trying to impose their doctrine. Cordesman also suggested it was more of an anomaly than a model that could be applied elsewhere in Iraq, where sectarian divisions and strife appear to be worsening. “We are spinning events that don’t really reflect the reality on the ground,” he said. [New York Times, 9/4/0