Audit Gives Iraq Leaders Failing Grade

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, left, and President Jalal Talabani, right, attend a meeting at the foreign ministry in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, Aug. 18, 2007. AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed

The Iraqi government has failed to meet the vast majority of political and military goals laid out by lawmakers to assess President Bush's Iraq war strategy, congressional auditors have determined.

The Associated Press has learned the Government Accountability Office, or GAO, will report that at least 13 of the 18 benchmarks to measure the surge of U.S. troops to Iraq are unfulfilled ahead of a Sept. 15 deadline. That's when Mr. Bush is to give a detailed accounting of the situation eight months after he announced the policy, according to three officials familiar with the matter.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the report has not been made public, also said the administration is preparing a case to play down the findings, arguing that Congress ordered the GAO to use unfair, "all or nothing" standards when compiling the document.

The GAO is to give a classified briefing about its findings to lawmakers on Thursday. It is not yet clear when its unclassified report will be released but it is due Sept. 1 amid a series of assessments called for in January legislation that authorized the president's plan to send 30,000 more troops to Iraq, where there is now a total of more than 160,000 American service members.

Among those Mr. Bush will hear from are the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Defense Secretary Robert Gates; the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus; and the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker. The Pentagon said Wednesday Mr. Bush was likely to get a variety of views from different military officials. Mr. Bush will then deliver his own report to Congress by Sept. 15.

Iraq's top diplomat said Thursday that more progress had been made in bringing security to the country than in advancing the tumultuous political situation, and cautioned against expecting "magical solutions" from Petraeus and Crocker's upcoming report.

"The whole world is waiting anxiously to see what this report will indicate," Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told reporters. "I personally believe that this report would not provide any magical solutions or provide any instant answers to the difficulties and challenges we are going through."

The GAO report comes at a pivotal time in the Iraq debate. So far, Republicans have mostly stood by the president on the war and staved off Democratic demands of troop withdrawals. But in exchange for their support, many GOP members said they wanted to see substantial progress in Iraq by September or else they would call for a new strategy, including possibly a withdrawal of troops.

Democrats are expected this fall to push for another round of votes on their legislation ordering most troops out by spring. A likely target for the debate will be a $147 billion bill the military needs to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The money covers the 2007 budget year, which begins Oct. 1.

The GAO, the congressional watchdog, is expected to find that the Iraqis have met only modest security goals for Baghdad and none of the major political aims such as passage of an oil law.

The White House brushed the GAO report off as "not news" Thursday, reports CBS News correspondent Peter Maer.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the administration had already acknowledged that the Iraqi government was not meeting most benchmarks, but the GAO failed to take "progress" into consideration.

"There are people who want to play politics with this matter," Perino said, reports Maer.

"While we've seen progress in some areas, it would not surprise me that the GAO would make this assessment given the difficult congressionally mandated measurement they had to follow," said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the National Security Council.

In other developments:

  • A U.S. soldier was killed in a roadside bomb attack during combat operations in Iraq's eastern Diyala province, the U.S. command said Thursday. The Task Force Lightning soldier was killed Wednesday by the explosion next to his vehicle, the military said in a statement.

  • An al Qaeda front group claimed Thursday on an Islamic Web site known to be used by extremists that it had executed an employee of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. The claim could not be independently verified and the U.S. Embassy said it was looking into the report but had no immediate comment. The Islamic State of Iraq claimed the execution of an "official" it identified as Zaher Abdel Mohsin Abdel-Saheb took place Saturday as revenge for "the Muslim women who are still captives in the prisons of Shiites and crusaders."

  • A military jury reprimanded Army Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan for disobeying an order to keep silent about an investigation into the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in 2003. Jordan could have been sentenced to up to five years in prison.

  • Iraqis and their U.S. advisers are stepping up efforts to bring many ex-officers from Saddam Hussein's army back into the fold, a measure they say will improve the quality of the country's forces.

  • Most U.S. troops can be withdrawn safely from Iraq in roughly one year and the Bush administration should begin planning the pullout immediately, according to a study from a progressive think tank.
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