Thursday, July 26, 2007

GAO Iraq War Report Due in September

We haven't heard the war supporters talk about this.

There will be a government report on the Iraq war issued shortly before the much anticipated Petraeus/Crocker report that will work as a checksum for the accuracy of administration claims of progress.

In a little-noticed addition to legislation requiring the July and September assessments on Iraq from the White House, Congress mandated a third report from the agency that has quietly done the most work to track the missteps, miscalculations, misspent funds and shortfalls of both the United States and Iraq since the 2003 invasion: the Government Accountability Office. ...

The 15-person team includes an array of specialists, lawyers, economists, foreign policy experts and statisticians. Most have been working on Iraq since June 2003, when the first GAO reports were mandated. They work on a day-to-day basis with the departments of State and Defense, but the GAO makes independent assessments.

The GAO report is due Sept. 1 -- two weeks before the administration's document. So it may set a standard that makes it harder for the administration to attach caveats to its answers, as outside analysts say it did in the July report.

The administration's assessments are more nuanced, with grading based on whether Iraq is making "satisfactory progress" or "unsatisfactory progress" on the 18 political, military and economic benchmarks. The GAO is mandated to give a more straightforward "yes" or "no" on whether the benchmarks have been achieved, said Joseph A. Christoff, director of the GAO's International Affairs and Trade Team, which will write the report.

Christoff anticipates blunt critiques in the GAO report, based on benchmarks his team has long been monitoring as part of its oversight of Iraq.

On Iraq's military, for example, the administration's July report said Iraq is making "satisfactory progress" on providing three brigades for the new U.S.-led Baghdad security plan.

But Christoff said the GAO is probing deeper. "For us, it's not just an issue of showing up, but showing up with equipment and logistical support so they can move on their own, and then being effective," he said. ...

On Iraq's economy, the July [White House] report said Baghdad is progressing satisfactorily in allocating $10 billion for development to its ministries and provinces, much of it for electricity and oil industry infrastructure. But Christoff is again skeptical. "If the past is any indication, it will also be very difficult to meet this benchmark," he said.

The need for development in the two sectors is critical. The oil-rich country last year spent $2.6 billion to import gasoline, diesel fuel for electricity and kerosene for cooking, because it cannot refine enough oil, Christoff said. Also, U.S. officials acknowledge, Iraq managed to allocate only about a quarter of the $10 billion in development funds during the first six months of 2007 -- much of which has not been spent.

"When you look at what is needed and what the goals are, there's a huge gap," Christoff said. And the gap between the administration's and the GAO's assessments on these central issues is likely to be reflected in other benchmarks, he said.


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