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Lawmakers Continue Examination of GAO Iraq Report


Members of Congress spent another day examining details of a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) that says the Iraqi government has failed to achieve most of the 18 political and other benchmarks for progress. VOA's Dan Robinson reports Democrats controlling Congress are pondering next legislative steps regarding Iraq.

After appearing before a Senate panel on Tuesday, U.S. Comptroller General David Walker faced House lawmakers on the Armed Services, and Foreign Affairs Committees.

The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, found that the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has met only three of 18 benchmarks for progress, including only one of eight legislative objectives, to protect the rights of political parties.

Legislation to control militias, share oil revenue, and hold provincial elections was not enacted.

Overall, the GAO report says violence remains high, adding that it is unclear if a drop in the average number of attacks in Iraq indicates a true decrease in sectarian violence.

The GAO says the Iraqi government met three benchmarks, and partially met four in the areas of legislation, security and the economy.

U.S. military commanders in Iraq criticized the report as flawed and factually incorrect.

Democrats and Republicans voiced their respective interpretations, as in these comments by Democratic Armed Services panel chairman Ike Skelton and the ranking panel Republican, Jim Saxton:

SKELTON: "There has not been any great political progress. We are left asking ourselves why should we expect this record to be different in the future and whether further American efforts will be of any effect."

SAXTON: "By solely examining whether each benchmark was achieved without considering the actual progress being made under each area, it appears that this hearing has been set up with a goal of providing a negative picture by failing to accurately reflect the current activities on the ground in Iraq."

GAO chief Walker defended the integrity and independence of the report, noting it was mandated by Congress with a September first deadline.

Walker responded to Republican criticisms that the report's focus on achievement of benchmarks provides too narrow a picture:

"Progress is a highly subjective issue and by definition one would expect that there would be a better rating that would be achieved if one solely focused on progress," said David Walker. "In my opinion, you need to look at both. You need to look at where do we stand as of a point in time and what progress is being made, and you need to consider the source."

Walker noted what he called some dramatic progress in al-Anbar province and parts of Baghdad, but added this cautionary note:

"The question is why? Is it transferable, is it sustainable," he asked. "And the real question for this Congress is not what has happened in the past but where do we stand now and what is the proper way forward?"

The GAO report comes ahead of next week's assessments from the U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker.

Majority Democrats, meanwhile, are working on legislative options they will pursue in the House and Senate after receiving those reports.

House majority leader Steny Hoyer told reporters that U.S. troop withdrawal timelines are likely to be part of Democrat's strategy in order to signal to the Iraqi government that it must make more progress.

Republican minority leader John Boehner urged lawmakers to wait for next week's reports:

"Members ought to give [General Petraeus] and our ambassador the chance to come up and testify," said Boehner. "We have been waiting for this date for three months, and until they testify I don't think anybody ought to predict or pre-judge or outline what there strategy is going to be until we hear what they have to say."

Boehner also appealed for a bipartisan approach on Iraq in coming months.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters that Democrats will seek common ground but also stand their ground, adding that September promises to be what she calls a moment of truth, but she declined to reveal anything more about Democrat's plans.

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