WASHINGTON—Iraq's political process has sharpened the country's sectarian divisions, polarized relations between its ethnic and religious groups, and weakened its sense of national identity, the Government Accountability Office said Monday.
In spite of a sharp increase in Sunni-Shiite violence, however, attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces are still the primary source of bloodshed in Iraq, the report found. It was the latest in a series of recent grim assessments of conditions in Iraq.
But the report was unusual in its sweep, relying on a series of other government studies, some of them previously unpublicized, to touch on issues from violence and politics to electricity production. Published on the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the GAO report was downbeat in its conclusions—underscoring how Iraq's deteriorating security situation threatens the Bush administration's goal of a stable and democratic regime in Baghdad.
"Despite coalition efforts and the efforts of the newly formed Iraqi government, insurgents continue to demonstrate the ability to recruit new fighters, supply themselves, and attack coalition security forces," the report says. "The deteriorating conditions threaten continued progress in U.S. and other international efforts to assist Iraq in the political and economic areas."
The report relied on a number of findings made earlier this year by the United Nations, the U.S. State and Defense departments, U.S. intelligence agencies and other sources to reach its conclusions. Unlike the majority of those agencies, the GAO, which reports to Congress, has no responsibility for forming or executing policy in Iraq.
The GAO said Congress must ask several questions as it considers what to do next. Among them:
_What political, economic and security conditions must be achieved before the United States can draw down and withdraw military forces from Iraq?
_Why have security conditions continued to worsen even as Iraq has met political milestones, increased the number of trained and equipped forces, and increasingly assumed the lead for security?
_If existing U.S. political, economic, and security measures are not reducing violence in Iraq, what additional measures, if any, will the administration propose for stemming the violence?
The report, citing the Pentagon, said that enemy attacks against coalition and Iraqi forces increased by 23 percent from 2004 to 2005 and that the number of attacks from January to July 2006 were 57 percent higher than during the same period in 2005.
A graph showed that the number of attacks rose from around 100 in May 2003 to roughly 4,500 in July 2006. More than half of those were against coalition troops; the rest appear to have been split almost evenly between attacks on Iraqi security forces and attacks on civilians.
The report said that electricity production remains inadequate, with Baghdad residents receiving less than six hours of power a day, on average. Residents outside Baghdad received electricity less than 11 hours a day, on average.
Though the Bush administration has hailed each political milestone in Iraq as another step on the march to freedom, the report cited a Defense Intelligence Agency finding that "the December 2005 elections appeared to heighten sectarian tensions and polarize sectarian divides."
That finding was echoed, the GAO said, in a March 2006 report from the government-funded U.S. Institute for Peace. That report said that the political process had sharpened ethnic and sectarian identities "while nationalism and a sense of Iraqi identity have weakened."
Further, a report by the office of Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte concluded in February 2006 that Iraqi security forces "are experiencing difficulty in managing ethnic and sectarian divisions," the GAO said. The intelligence director's report said many Iraqi troops remain loyal to sectarian and political interests, the GAO said.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.