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Lawmakers Discuss Iraq Visit, Unmet Benchmarks

Congress returned from its August recess to a series of reports assessing progress in Iraq, including one that found the Iraqi government is having trouble meeting most U.S.-set benchmarks. Four House members who spent time in Iraq discuss the situation.

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  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    Lawmakers returned from their month-long summer recession recess today still deeply divided over the level of progress achieved by the U.S. troop surge strategy in Iraq. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell urged colleagues to wait for next week's report from General David Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq, before taking a position.

    SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), Senate Minority Leader: The Congress voted in May to have General Petraeus report back this month on the progress in Iraq, and the Congress should listen to what he says, without prejudice, when he gets here.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    But Majority Leader Harry Reid said the strategy had been given enough time.

    SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), Senate Majority Leader: The president can't hide behind the generals. This is his war. He's responsible for the mistakes and the missteps that leave our troops mired in a civil war with no end in sight. The mission hasn't been accomplished.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    The Petraeus report is one of three major assessments Congress will review over the next two weeks. This afternoon, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee got the first one, a scorecard compiled by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, detailing the political, military and economic progress in Iraq. GAO Comptroller General David Walker delivered the results.

  • DAVID WALKER, GAO Comptroller General:

    As of August 30, 2007, the Iraqi government had met three, partially met four, and did not meet 11 of the 18 benchmarks. 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.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    Among its findings, the GAO reported that the Iraqi government met only one of eight political benchmarks: protecting the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature, while benchmarks concerning constitutional reforms, new oil laws, and de-Baathification were not met.

    On military progress, particularly around Baghdad, the report found the number of attacks against U.S. forces had decreased, but whether sectarian violence had been reduced remained unclear. And the report showed the number of independent Iraqi security units between March and July had declined.

    Several Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee seized on the findings to criticize the effectiveness of the president's surge strategy. Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry.

    SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), Massachusetts: It's somewhat disconcerting when you read through these benchmarks that those that are partially met and/or met are, frankly, pretty light compared — light in their impact — compared to those that are completely unmet, which are obviously of much greater significance to any kind of political reconciliation or resolution.

  • DAVID WALKER:

    If we said that it was a "not met," Senator, that doesn't mean there's been no progress. It means there hasn't been enough progress for us to be able to say that it's at least partially met or it is a criteria that doesn't lend itself to a "partially met." But needless to say, the furthest — the biggest problem area is in the political area. There's no question about that.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    Republican Dick Lugar of Indiana gave credit to those areas of success but wondered whether they would sustain long term.

    SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), Indiana: We have an awesome problem, and we have been attempting in a humane way to solve that with the surge by suppressing people from killing each other. We probably saved a lot of lives by putting walls around neighborhoods so that people could not get at each other and kill each other. But the issue then is, how long can you maintain this?

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    The GAO's Walker pointed to one such example: the recent success in stabilizing security in Anbar province.

  • DAVID WALKER:

    There's no question there's been progress in Anbar province, but Anbar province is not Baghdad. And Anbar province is not representative of necessarily other provinces in Iraq. It's Sunni-dominated. The issues there are primarily dealing with al-Qaida and primarily Sunni-on-Sunni challenges there. But there's no question there's been progress there; the question is, which of that is transferable?

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    And several times during the hearing, Walker pointed to the importance of clearly defining what the mission of U.S. troops in Iraq should be.

  • DAVID WALKER:

    If we're going to stay — and, obviously, we are in some numbers for some period of time — what are we going to do, and what are we going to try to accomplish with the forces that we have there? What's appropriate for us to be doing versus others?

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    Several other congressional committees will get a chance to dissect Walker's GAO report in the days to come. Meanwhile, former Marine Commandant James Jones will release the results of his own independent review to the Congress on Thursday.

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