Bush aides hit back at bleak Iraq report

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by Stephen Collinson

1 hour, 27 minutes ago

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The Bush administration Thursday rejected a bleak draft survey by a government auditor on political and military advances in Iraq, saying it set criteria for judging progress far too high.

The White House and State Department hit back after leaks emerged of a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), saying Iraq had failed to meet all but three of 18 benchmarks laid down by Congress.

The report emerged at a vital moment of the Iraq war debate, as the White House and anti-war Democrats crank up political heat ahead of a showdown over President George W. Bush's troop surge strategy in Congress next month.

White House deputy spokeswoman Dana Perino took pains to differentiate the GAO survey from the president's own report on the 30,000-strong troop hike in Iraq, which he must provide to Congress by September 15.

The president must report on whether or not the Iraqis are making significant progress towards achieving the benchmarks in Iraq," Perino told reporters.

"The GAO ... is asked by Congress to say whether or not they have met them," she said, adding that the "bar was set so high" it was all but impossible for the Iraqis to meet the standards.

But the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi accused Bush of "stubbornly" refusing to accept things were going badly in Iraq.

"He insists that our soldiers sacrifice even more, and taxpayers spend billions more dollars for an Iraqi government incapable or unwilling to institute reforms required by the president himself," Pelosi said.

A law passed by Congress earlier this year requiring a report on the surge strategy gives Bush wide latitude.

It says the president must state what revisions are necessary in US strategy, if he assesses progress towards any benchmarks is "unsatisfactory."

The GAO is required by the law assess Iraq's progress in meeting benchmarks on political reconciliation, constitutional reform, building of security forces, challenging sectarian militia and sharing oil revenues.

"I would expect that if you apply different standards to the benchmarks, you might come out with some different conclusions," State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said Thursday.

The GAO report concludes that efforts by the Iraqi government to meet key legislation and reconstruction efforts are stalled, the Washington Post said.

Attacks on civilians have not ebbed and the Iraqi security forces have grown no more competent, the draft said, adding that US agencies were divided on whether violence had been reduced by the surge.

The Government Accountability Office, formerly known as the General Accounting Office, is the non-partisan auditing branch of the US Congress that oversees the performance and accountability of the US government.

Its findings are in stark contrast to an upbeat interim assessment issued by the White House in July, which found positive developments in eight of 18 categories.

The White House and Republican allies in Congress have been making a case that the surge strategy has been successful in dampening violence in Iraq, and making strides in the fight against extremists.

They have been pushing back against the idea that Iraqis must meet benchmarks, saying the grades do not reflect progress in the country, where 3,729 US soldiers and tens of thousands of civilians have now died.

But Democratic critics have countered that the surge was designed specifically to give the Iraqi government space to achieve political reconciliation, and as that has not happened, it has ultimately failed.

Attention is now focusing on testimony to Congress next month by Iraq war commander General David Petraeus and US ambassador to Baghdad Ryan Crocker.

The White House said the two men would testify to both chambers of Congress on September 10 and 12, avoiding the emotionally charged date of September 11, the sixth anniversary of terror strikes targeting New York and Washington.

Bush aides hit back at bleak Iraq report - Yahoo! News

 

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