The report does not examine why the payments sharply declined and Pentagon officials say they need more time to review the report before commenting. However, the report notes that some military officials suggest changes in military operations and increasing control by Iraqi security forces may have led to the decline.
Todd Bowers, a Marine reservist who now works for the private organization Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America used to hand out condolence payments as part of his service in Iraq. He says a reduction in payments should come when US forces downsize not when they are on the rise. He suggests the dangerous environment keeps soldiers from making payments, "With violence continuing and troop strength increasing, this may be a sign that our forces are being restricted in reaching out to the Iraqi people."
The full report can be viewed here.
Past complaints about the arbitrary nature of the payments had inspired Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA)and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to request the report from the GAO. In a statement Kennedy expressed surprise at the decline, "Innocent Iraqi civilians are bearing an immense burden in this misguided war. The administration has the responsibility to ensure that its condolences policy is fair and is seen to be fair by the Iraqi people and the world."
The Department of Defense says condolence payments are not an admission of guilt or responsibility, but simply express sympathy and offer immediate humanitarian assistance. Payments per individual in Iraq range from $1500 for a severed limb and up to $2500 for the death of a loved one. In Afghanistan, a serious injury would merit $267 and a family who lost a loved one would receive 100,000 Afghani or $2,336.
Patricia Alulema contributed to reporting for this post.