Politics & Government

GAO: U.S. hasn't taken advantage of Iraq's drop in violence

WASHINGTON — The U.S. and Iraqi governments have failed to take advantage of a dramatic drop in violence in Iraq, according to a report issued Tuesday by a U.S. watchdog agency, which warned that prospects were waning "for achieving current U.S. security, political and economic goals in Iraq."

Iraqi leaders have not passed legislation to foster reconciliation among Shiite Muslims, Sunnis and Kurds, and sectarian groups still retain control of ministries and divide Iraqi security forces, according to the Government Accountability Office report.

Moreover, the Bush administration's efforts to stabilize and rebuild Iraq are plagued by weak planning, a lack of coordination with the Iraqi government and among U.S. agencies, and an absence of detailed information on "the current and future costs of U.S. involvement in Iraq," it said.

"U.S. efforts lack strategies with clear purpose, scope, roles and performance measures," the report said.

The findings raise questions about whether the increase of U.S. troops that began last February will ultimately achieve the goal of giving Iraqi political leaders enough of a respite from violence that that they can work to resolve Iraq's many problems. The report comes as the Democrat-controlled Congress begins weighing President Bush's request for another $196 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The GAO report, delivered to a House of Representatives subcommittee, cited a major drop in the number of enemy attacks on U.S.-led coalition troops and Iraqi security forces.

There were about 3,000 such attacks in September, compared to some 5,300 in June, the report said.

Despite the drop, however, government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has made only "limited progress" toward passing legislation designed to foster national reconciliation, the report said.

None of the most crucial bills have been approved, it said. These include legislation that would ensure the equitable distribution of petroleum revenues and lift a ban on government jobs for Iraqis who were low- and middle-level members of the former ruling Baathist Party.

The report noted some progress in reconciliation at the local level, including in Sunni-dominated Anbar Province.

But at the national level "sectarian factions within the Iraqi government ministries continue to undermine reconciliation efforts" and use their positions "to maintain power," the report said.

Iraqi security forces have grown and are increasingly leading counter-insurgency operations. But they remain divided between sectarian factions, burdened by "a high rate of absenteeism," and dependant on U.S. forces for their logistics, command, and intelligence capabilities.

U.S. efforts to help Iraqi ministries develop the ability to run their affairs are dogged by poor coordination between U.S. agencies and between the U.S. and Iraqi governments, the report said.

"No lead (U.S.) agency provides overall direction and U.S. priorities have been subject to numerous changes," it said. "Without a unified U.S. strategy that clearly articulates agency roles and responsibilities . . . U.S. efforts are less likely to succeed."

It said that despite billions of dollars in U.S. reconstruction funds, the Iraqi electricity and petroleum sectors will require tens of billions more to meet their production goals.

"While U.S. troops have performed courageously under difficult and dangerous circumstances, the continued violence and polarization of Iraqi society as well as the Iraqi government's continued difficulties . . . diminishes the prospects for achieving the current U.S. security, political and economic goals in Iraq," the report said.

ON THE WEB

The full GAO report.

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