A bleak portrait of the political and security situation in Iraq released yesterday by the Government Accountability Office sparked sharp protests from the top U.S. military command in Baghdad, whose officials described it as flawed and "factually incorrect."
The controversy followed last-minute changes made in the final draft of the report after the Defense Department maintained that its conclusions were too harsh and insisted that some of the information it contained -- such as the extent of a fall in the number of Iraqi army units capable of operating without U.S. assistance -- should not appear in the final, unclassified version.
The GAO rejected several changes proposed by the Pentagon and concluded that Iraq had failed to meet all but two of nine security goals Congress had set as part of a list of 18 benchmarks of progress. But grades for two of the seven unmet security benchmarks -- the elimination of havens for militia forces and the deployment of three Iraqi army brigades to assist the U.S. security plan in Baghdad -- were recast to reflect partial progress. Two other benchmarks, one political and one economic, were also described as "partially met." [my emphasis]
If I'm reading the bolded paragraph correctly, it says the military succeeded in burying the details about how few Iraqi army units can operate on their own; it was evident that the GAO had changed this benchmark from failing to
mostly failing partial success, but I guess the actual numbers are even more damning than the Gentleman's C grade on it is.
It appears that David Walker, the head of GAO, attributes this change to new information--though if it is, why can't we see the data?
Walker, the GAO chief, denied that substantive changes in the report had been made under pressure. "The only thing we really did was we went to a 'partially met' on a couple, on one of which I'd made the judgment . . . independently of [military] comments; the other of which they provided us additional information that we did not have previously," he said in congressional testimony.
All of which leaves the one area where there will (or should, but perhaps I'm overly optimistic) be the big discussion in the next week: Petraeus' funny numbers.
The military officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because Petraeus will give the official military position in testimony Monday, took particular exception to the GAO statement that a drop in sectarian attacks could not be confirmed. The final version of the report softened the draft's initial conclusion that "U.S. agencies differ on whether such violence has been reduced," saying instead that "measuring such violence may be difficult since the perpetrator's intent is not clearly known."
One military official called even the revised version "factually incorrect," saying that "we absolutely disagree with their characterization of sectarian violence." Such attacks have fallen significantly this year, he said.
But Walker said the GAO received different assessments of the levels of violence. The report, he noted, recommended that the administration reflect such divergence in its own reports. It was unclear whether sectarian attacks had dropped, he said, "since it is difficult to measure intentions and there are various measures of sectarian violence from different sources. . . . Some show increases, some show decreases, and some show inconsistent patterns."
Petraeus--with the military--wants to use the new massaged numbers, which does not count any deaths from suicide bombs The logic on this is particularly specious; they say that suicide bombs are definitely Al Qaeda in Iraq, and therefore it doesn't count as sectarian. But last I checked, there was a sectarian component to Al Qaeda in Iraq, too.
And Walker, in perhaps his most gentle response, suggests maybe the government might acknowledge that there are at least three sets of numbers and their numbers don't match anyone else's.