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Report Says Iraq Fails to Meet Most Benchmarks for Success

A report released Tuesday by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, says Iraq has failed to meet most of the benchmarks aimed at measuring political, economic and military progress. The report is one of several to be released to Congress in the coming days as growing numbers of lawmakers are calling for a redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

The Government Accountability Office says Iraq has met only three of 18 benchmarks, has failed to meet 11 others, and has only partially met four.

The GAO's Comptroller General David Walker presented the findings to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

"Overall, key legislation has not been passed, violence remains high and it is unclear whether the Iraqi government will spend the $10 billion in reconstruction funds it has allocated," he said.

Walker says the goals the Iraqi government has met include establishing joint security stations in Baghdad, ensuring minority rights in the Iraqi legislature and creating support committees for the Baghdad security plan.

Among the benchmarks not met include reducing the level of sectarian violence and eliminating militia control of local security, enacting laws to ease restrictions on former Ba'ath party members from holding public office, and enacting a law to guarantee the equitable distribution of oil resources among the country's ethnic groups.

Critics of the Bush administration's strategy in Iraq were quick to seize on the report's findings. Senator John Kerry is a Massachusetts Democrat:

"It is hard to draw any assessment except there is a failing grade for a policy that is still not working," he noted.

The panels' top Republican, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, suggested the report raises troubling questions about the willingness of Iraqi government officials to forge political reconciliation.

"If the answer ultimately is that Iraqis are really not as concerned about being Iraqis, but only Iraqis if they are in charge, they will continue civil strife, and this is an awesome dilemma," he said.

The White House has acknowledged not all benchmarks have been met, but spokesman Tony Fratto urged lawmakers to wait for next week's report from U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, for a more thorough report on the current status in Iraq.

In addition to that report, retired Marine General James Jones, head of an independent commission set up by Congress, is to brief lawmakers on Iraq security forces later this week.

The series of status reports come as Congress is expected to resume debate on Iraq.

Last month, Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia, an influential member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called on President Bush to begin withdrawing U.S. troops by the end of the year.

In a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, called on other Republicans to back Warner's call.

"Everyday we must continue to fight for a sensible, responsible path out of Iraq in order to restore America's national security," he said.

But the Senate's top Republican, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, stopped short of embracing a timetable for a U.S. troop withdrawal. He said whatever decision is made on U.S. troop levels in Iraq, the United States should keep forces in the region to fight al-Qaida and deter Iran.

"We need a long-term deployment, somewhere in the Middle East in the future for two reasons: al-Qaida and Iran," he said.

President Bush, on an unannounced visit to Iraq Monday, cited progress in the security situation in Anbar province and raised the prospect of fewer U.S. troops in Iraq if such progress continues.