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Lantos’ committee takes up GAO report on Iraq

By Josh Richman
Wednesday, September 5th, 2007 at 1:44 pm in Iraq, Tom Lantos, U.S. House.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, today convened his committee’s hearing on the Government Accountability Office’s assessment of progress in Iraq with a statement which basically meant, “Don’t believe the White House’s hype.”

“Some will prefer to criticize the GAO’s methodology rather than face the harsh realities of this protracted civil war. But the Administration’s own recently-released National Intelligence Estimate is as scathing as what we will hear today. Our intelligence community predicts that insurgent and sectarian violence will remain high over the next year, that political reconciliation will remain elusive, and that the Iraqi government will become ever more precarious. So it’s not just the GAO handing out failing grades -– the Administration’s own non-political experts are every bit as critical,” he said.

“The long-awaited Administration report next week will undoubtedly say sectarian violence is declining. It is not,” he added. “In a desperate effort to show the surge is working, the Administration has attempted to cook the books by excluding large numbers of Iraqi civilian casualties from its estimates, arguing that only certain types of deaths are due to ‘sectarian’ violence. But the families of the dead know better than to write them off that way.”

Read Lantos’ statement in its entirety, after the jump…

lantos.jpgOver the next week, our committee will hold three hearings on Iraq. Today we receive the assessment of the non-partisan General Accountability Office on Iraq’s governance track record, based on benchmarks established by Congress. As we undertake this review and others in the coming days, it is imperative that we look at Iraq with the broadest possible lens. What we see is not a pretty picture.

The underlying and unspoken assumption of this Administration is that the United States and Prime Minister Maliki have parallel objectives for the future of Iraq. As the GAO Report shows in great detail, this assumption is fatally flawed.

Prime Minister Maliki has run his government like a Shiite factional leader. The United States wants to build a strong, national Iraqi army; Maliki wants a militia-infiltrated force to protect Shiite power. The United States wants the Iraqi government to pursue a more flexible policy towards low-level members of the Baathist Party; Maliki has stymied this move at every step, and in so doing, has demonstrated to the Sunni population that this government is not their government.

Prime Minister Maliki’s Shiite-first policies have contributed directly to the inability of Iraq’s leaders to reach agreement on the critical issues facing their nation. Our witness today, GAO Comptroller General David Walker, has called the Iraqi government “dysfunctional” – I couldn’t agree more.

One only needs to look at the GAO’s careful analysis of the current state of affairs in Iraq to understand why. The GAO’s conclusions are extremely sobering. Only 3 of the 18 benchmarks have been fully met, four have been partially met, with the remaining ones not even close to being met.

While the White House might have us believe that the troop surge is working, it has become manifestly apparent to all objective observers that it is not, and Prime Minister Maliki’s overly sectarian governing style is a key factor in this failure.

Some will prefer to criticize the GAO’s methodology rather than face the harsh realities of this protracted civil war. But the Administration’s own recently-released National Intelligence Estimate is as scathing as what we will hear today. Our intelligence community predicts that insurgent and sectarian violence will remain high over the next year, that political reconciliation will remain elusive, and that the Iraqi government will become ever more precarious. So it’s not just the GAO handing out failing grades – the Administration’s own non-political experts are every bit as critical.

Today, I would like to touch on just four of the most important benchmarks – sectarian violence, Iraqi troop readiness, control of militias, and Iraqi reconstruction.

The long-awaited Administration report next week will undoubtedly say sectarian violence is declining. It is not.

In a desperate effort to show the surge is working, the Administration has attempted to cook the books by excluding large numbers of Iraqi civilian casualties from its estimates, arguing that only certain types of deaths are due to “sectarian” violence. But the families of the dead know better than to write them off that way.

According to the Government Accountability Office, overall attacks on Iraqi civilians have not dropped. And the Administration’s own National Intelligence Estimate states that “the level of overall violence, including attacks on and casualties among civilians, remains high.” In the context of this religiously-fueled civil war, it is near impossible that Iraq’s warring factions will be willing and able to make the tough political compromises essential to a stable and peaceful Iraq.

Also on the security front, the Iraqis were due to provide three trained and ready army brigades to support security in Baghdad. Again, this critically-important benchmark has not been fully met.

The GAO has found that these brigades are trained, but are hardly ready for battle. Many of the Iraqi force commanders have refused to put aside their sectarian loyalties, spreading deep distrust among the Iraqi public. All of the forces remain completely dependent upon American troops for equipment, transportation and other crucial logistical support.

Another benchmark asks the Iraqis to ensure that the Baghdad security plan will not provide a haven for outlaws. But according to the Government Accountability Office, the reliability of the police and national security forces to do their jobs in a non-sectarian way continues to be undermined by strong militia influence and political interference. Recent press reports have suggested that even units of Iraq’s armed forces sent to support the so-called “Security Plan” are riddled with sympathizers of Moqtada Al-Sadr, have refused to come to the aid of our troops under fire, and are effectively promoting safe havens in Baghdad itself.

Finally, the Iraqis were due to allocate and spend ten billion dollars in Iraqi revenue for reconstruction projects. Again, this benchmark remains partially unmet. More than three-quarters of these reconstruction funds – which would help resuscitate Iraq’s oil industry and increase electricity generation – have not been spent.

The much-beleaguered Iraqi people have less electricity than before the war, and their incompetent government is sitting on funds to revitalize this critical sector. Mind-boggling, indeed.

On all 18 benchmarks, Prime Minister Maliki could play a critical role in leading Iraq towards political reconciliation. But instead, Maliki has remained a Shiite factional leader, who holds a fundamentally different view of Iraq’s future than we do. As long as this remains the case, no number of U.S. troops will be able to stabilize a civil war-torn Iraq.

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