By Meghan Warren
On June 24, 2008, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its latest assessment of the U.S. military “surge” in Iraq. GAO concludes that the Bush administration has overstated gains in Iraq. The report finds that while violence has dropped substantially, the Iraqi government has failed to reclaim control of its own country. The stated purpose of the surge was to give the Iraqi government the breathing room it needed to stand on its own and achieve political reconciliation. Instead, based on the criteria evaluated by GAO, the U.S. military continues to hold Iraq together while the Iraqi government dithers and remains unable to function effectively.
IRAQI SECURITY FORCES UNABLE TO OPERATE INDEPENDENTLY
GAO reports that “the number of Iraqi units capable of performing operations without U.S. assistance has remained at 10%.” The Pentagon responded by saying that GAO’s assessment is disingenuous, noting that while the number of combat-ready units has stagnated, up to 70% of missions are being led by Iraqi Security Forces and the total number of ISF personnel has increased. Nonetheless, GAO expresses concern about Iraqi Security Forces’ ongoing inability to assume responsibility for security missions.
VIOLENCE DOWN BUT GAINS FRAGILE
GAO finds that violence decreased by about 70% since the beginning of the surge, with the total number of incidents falling “from about 180 attacks per day in June 2007 to 50 attacks per day in February 2008.” GAO attributes the decline in violence to the increased troop presence, nongovernmental security forces (i.e. Sons of Iraq), and the Mahdi Army ceasefire. But the report voices some concerns about the Sons of Iraq in particular. Opposition to Shiites persists amongst the Sunni-dominated Sons of Iraq, and the Sons of Iraq thus remain vulnerable to infiltration by extremists. Because the Iraqi government has failed to integrate the Sons of Iraq into the regular Iraqi Security Forces, GAO assesses, the Iraqi government has little ability to stop extremist elements from joining the Sons of Iraq.
GOVERNMENT HAS FAILED TO PASS KEY LEGISLATION
While significant inroads have been made toward enacting essential legislation – such as permitting select Ba’athists to re-enter the government and enacting an amnesty law – other important measures have yet to take shape. According to GAO, the Iraqi government “has not yet enacted other important legislation for sharing oil resources or holding provincial elections. Efforts to complete the constitutional review have also stalled.” GAO emphasizes that one of the stated goals of the surge was to give the Iraqi government the space it required to pass and implement crucial legislation by the end of 2007, but that goal was not fully met.
INFRASTRUCTURE RECONSTRUCTION DELAYED
“Violence and sectarian strife, shortage of skilled labor, and weak procurement and budgeting systems have hampered Iraq’s efforts to spend its capital budgets,” GAO reports. Of the $27 billion Iraq allocated towards reconstruction between 2005 and 2007, only 24% was actually spent, contradicting American claims that 60% had been used. Furthermore, the government ministries responsible for providing essential services spent a mere 11% of their capital investment budgets in 2007. This proportion is a decrease from similarly low rates in 2005 (14%) and 2006 (13%).
GAO also points out the Iraqi government’s shortcomings in providing oil and electricity. GAO notes that “Although oil production has improved for short periods, the May 2008 production level of about 2.5 million barrels per day (mbpd) was below the U.S. goal of 3 mbpd,” while the electricity supply was only able to satisfy half of the demand. Iraqis also report dissatisfaction with water supplies, sanitation, and health care.
The Bush administration and war supporters trumpet the surge as a success, since the number of violent incidents and casualties has indeed dropped. Yet such an assessment conveniently ignores the lack of political progress by the Iraqi government, which was the whole point of the surge in the first place. U.S. military gains may prove temporary in the absence of an effective Iraqi government moving towards national reconciliation. Indeed, it may be the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq that is both inciting violence by Iraqis who want to expel an occupier and providing the Iraqi government with enough political cover to avoid making the compromises necessary for reconciliation.