In anticipation of the forthcoming White House report on Iraq benchmarks and testimony by Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker before Congress, legislators should be prepared to ask tough questions so that the American public has a complete picture of what is happening in Iraq.
The White House has already begun manipulating comments made by Gen. David Petraeus in support of continuing the troop surge. Case in point: The Bush Administration seized upon a comment made by Gen. Petraeus late last month that there had been a 75 percent reduction in religious and ethnic killings in the capital, instantly highlighting only this one fact in a White House press briefing.
Yet more thorough reports depict a much more pessimistic outlook. Last month’s grim National Intelligence Estimate depicted an Iraq suffering from high levels of sectarian violence. A more recent report from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office demonstrated that Iraq’s political transition is deadlocked. And then a third independent commission found that Iraq’s security forces simply are not standing up as President Bush said they would.
Here are the questions Congress should ask Gen. Petreaus and Ambassador Crocker:
1. Is violence in Iraq down?
2. Have sectarian deaths in Iraq been significantly reduced?
- The Pentagon’s own numbers do not include Shi’a-on-Shi’a violence, Sunni-on-Sunni violence, car bombings, or people being shot in the head from in front. For example, the Pentagon does not consider large-scale bombings such as the bombing in northern Iraq last month that killed more than 500 ethnic Yezidis an example of sectarian violence.
3. Is a possible drop in violence in Baghdad the result of the surge or some other factor?
- The recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq indicates that some of the reduced violence may be a product of population displacements and sectarian cleansing.
- U.S. officials report that Baghdad had a 65 percent Sunni-majority population around the start of the war. It is now a 75 percent Shi’a-majority city.
- The number of internally displaced persons has doubled to 1.1 million, according to the Iraqi Red Crescent. This includes nearly 200,000 in Baghdad alone.
- More than half of all Baghdad’s neighborhoods are now Shi’a-dominated as compared to “a couple” in February 2006.
4. Are U.S. military casualties down?
5. Are the “bottom-up reconciliation” and a turn by Sunni tribes against Al Qaeda a significant turnaround in the war?
- The U.S. Intelligence Community indicates that Sunni tribal cooperation with the U.S. military will intensify sectarian violence: “Perceptions that the Coalition is withdrawing probably will encourage factions anticipating a power vacuum to seek local security solutions that could intensify sectarian violence and intra-sectarian competition.”
6. Are the “bottom-up reconciliation” and a turn by Sunni tribes against Al Qaeda a result of the surge?
- The recent NIE on Iraq indicates that Sunni tribal elements are only cooperating with us because they believe we will leave Iraq.
- “Fearing a Coalition withdrawal, some tribal elements and Sunni groups probably will continue to seek accommodation with the Coalition to strengthen themselves for a post-Coalition security environment.”
- Sunni tribal “initiatives will only translate into widespread political accommodation and enduring stability if the Iraqi government accepts and supports them.”
7. Are Iraqi security forces improving?
- The commission headed by Gen. James Jones has determined that the Iraqi Interior Ministry is “dysfunctional” and “sectarian.”
- The Iraqi National Police are “operationally ineffective” and should be disbanded and reorganized.
- Iraqi security forces will not be able to fulfill an independent security role within the next 12 to 18 months.
8. Have Iraqis made progress on the benchmarks agreed upon at the beginning of the surge?
- The GAO has reported that only three of the 18 benchmarks laid out by the administration in January have been satisfactorily met. (Those that were met include: establishing supporting political, media, economic, and service committees in support of the Baghdad security plan; establishing the planned joint security stations in neighborhoods across Baghdad; ensuring that the rights of minority political parties are protected in the Iraqi legislature).
- Two of the three benchmarks that have been met are security-related.
- Critical benchmarks—the oil law, provincial elections, de-Baathification, and constitutional review—have not been met.
9. Has the Iraqi government taken advantage of the additional U.S. troops to achieve progress on their national reconciliation and political transition?
10. Has the quality of life improved for ordinary Iraqis?
- Iraq is ranked second in a list of the world’s most badly failing states.
- There are now more than 2.4 million Iraqi refugees living in the Middle East
- The U.S. Provincial Reconstruction Team program is under-funded, lacks clear objectives, suffers from repeated leadership changes, and has a staff of which 95 percent lack the cultural knowledge and Arabic-language skills needed to work with Iraqis.
- One quarter (28 percent) of Iraqi children are malnourished and 15 percent of the total population—4 million Iraqis—cannot buy enough food.
Congress has a responsibility to ask tough questions about the forthcoming White House report. Recent independent assessments raise serious questions about the claims of progress on several fronts.
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