A U.S. government official has told Congress Iraq's new government will require long-term U.S. and international assistance if reconstruction efforts are to succeed. The official provided a list of challenges facing the new Iraqi government.
David Walker, comptroller general of the Government Accountability Office, painted a sober picture of Iraq for a House Government Reform subcommittee.
Describing Iraq's democracy as being at a precarious stage he says only a concerted effort by the U.S. and the international community can meet the political, security, economic and other needs of Iraqis.
"2006 will be a critically important year, and more needs to be done by both the U.S. and the international community to help ensure that it results in real and sustainable progress within Iraq," said David Walker.
Walker's testimony was based on his visit to Iraq earlier this year, and four reports by the GAO since 2005.
While he says Iraqis have made real progress, holding three elections, he also says they face overwhelming challenges in forming a permanent government, quelling insurgents and sectarian violence.
"The new government will confront the enormous task of strengthening a range of government institutions, disbanding the militias, resolving disputes over national borders and oil revenues and addressing significant corruption," he said. "Appointments to the key ministries of interior, defense and oil in particular will be critical to unifying Iraq and minimizing sectarian violence."
On a range of issues, from Iraq's oil sector to electricity generating capacity and water supplies, Walker agreed with lawmakers that key objectives have not been met.
Henry Waxman is a California Democrat and a critic of how the Bush administration has handled reconstruction:
"Today, more than three years later Iraq is actually worse off in key reconstruction sectors than before we arrived and the Bush administration is nowhere near [fulfilling] the rosy promises it made before the war," said Henry Waxman.
Waxman notes that despite the U.S. expenditure of some $2 billion, Iraqi oil production remains below pre-war levels, with similar shortcomings in electricity generation.
Committee chairman and Republican Congressman Christopher Shays says Congress must continue to examine contracting, management and other failures that have set back reconstruction, but adds the U.S. has no choice but to remain in Iraq:
"Premature withdrawal of our military will guarantee failure," said Christopher Shays. "I believe we must replace our withdrawal mindset with a mindset that appreciates what our military, State Department and others have accomplished in Iraq and the sacrifices made by the people of Iraq to grasp hold of democracy and live a better life."
GAO comptroller Walker says the U.S. has made more progress building Iraq's military than it has Iraqi police forces, adding that giving Iraqis the logistical capabilities to support and sustain themselves is a critical need.
Maryland Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger believes U.S. troops should withdraw from Iraq's urban areas to allow Iraqis to take over more of the security burden:
"By doing this we would be able to start sending a lot more of our troops home, but we [would] have our key operations on the perimeter, we're backing up the Iraqis, we're not leaving because they are not ready yet, but they have to learn themselves to provide their security," said Dutch Ruppersberger.
President Bush reiterated this week that the U.S. will remain in Iraq to defeat terrorists and provide hope to the Iraqi people.
GAO comptroller Walker told lawmakers it is likely Iraq will need much more than the $56 billion originally estimated for reconstruction and stabilization, adding it remains unclear how the Iraqi government will finance these objectives.