Lauding advances on some measures and warning the difficulty of progress on others, the much-anticipated White House interim progress report on Iraq released Thursday holds few surprises. The report card cites satisfactory progress on eight of eighteen benchmarks established by the United States, unsatisfactory progress on another eight and mixed results on two others.
"Those of us who believe the battle in Iraq can and must be won see the satisfactory performance on several of the security benchmarks as a cause for optimism," Bush told reporters Thursday in a press conference following release of the report. "Our strategy is built on the premise that progress in security will pave the way for political progress, so it's not surprising that political progress is lagging behind the security gains we're seeing."
Bush, Petraeus and others have always argued that the intent of the surge is to provide an environment in which the Iraqi government could move forward on political measures. Though disappointed by the lack of reconciliation being forged at the top levels of the government, the White House report cites the recent involvement of tribal leaders in Anbar as evidence of a "bottom-up" process of reconciliation underway, and expresses an expectation that, "Over time, we expect bottom-up reconciliation to be reflected in, and latch up with, progress on top-down measures."
Though failing to achieve sufficient progress on important endeavors such as de-Ba'athification reform and the hydrocarbon law, the report argues that "what is important is the overall trajectory, which, under our present strategy, has begun to stabilize, compared to the deteriorating trajectory seen over the course of 2006."
The report concludes that even though the surge strategy is in its early stages of employment, "There are some encouraging signs that should, over time, point the way to a more normalized and sustainable level of U.S. engagement in Iraq, with a decreasing number of U.S. combat forces increasingly focused on a core set of missions." The report continues on to suggest US forces could eventually transition into the types of roles advanced by the Iraq Study Group--training Iraqi security forces and leading targeted counter-terrorism operations.
Excerpts From White House Initial Benchmark Report, July 12, 2007FinalBenchmarkReport.pdf
(i) Forming a Constitutional Review Committee and then completing the constitutional review.
Assessment: The Government of Iraq has made satisfactory progress toward forming a Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) and then completing the constitutional review. The CRC has been formed, and, while difficult issues remain, significant progress has been made on many substantive issues and technical details involved in the constitutional review process.
(ii) Enacting and implementing legislation on de-Ba’athification reform.
Assessment: The Government of Iraq has not made satisfactory progress toward enacting and implementing legislation on de-Ba’athification reform. Given the lack of satisfactory progress, we have not achieved the desired reconciliation effect that meaningful and broadly accepted de-Ba’athification reform might bring about. This does not, however, necessitate a revision to the current plan and strategy. De-Ba’athification remains a core priority of U.S. political engagement, and pushing reforms too fast or in a manner that results in a poor law could be detrimental to our overall reconciliation objectives.
(iii) Enacting and implementing legislation to ensure the equitable distribution of hydrocarbon resources to the people of Iraq without regard to the sect or ethnicity of recipients, and enacting and implementing legislation to ensure that the energy resources of Iraq benefit Sunni Arabs, Shi’a Arabs, Kurds, and other Iraqi citizens in an equitable manner.
Assessment: The current status is unsatisfactory, but it is too early to tell whether the Government of Iraq will enact and implement legislation to ensure the equitable distribution of hydrocarbon resources to all Iraqis. The Government of Iraq has not met its self-imposed goal of May 31 for submitting the framework hydrocarbon and revenue-sharing laws to the COR. Although the KRG and the Shi’a parties have agreed to the text of the Revenue Management Law, Council of Ministers’ approval has been delayed by a Sunni party boycott. The effect of limited progress toward this benchmark has been to reduce the perceived confidence in, and effectiveness of, the Iraqi Government. This does not, however, necessitate a revision to our current plan and strategy, under which we have assigned a high priority to this subject, and the process overall has continued to move forward.
(iv) Enacting and implementing legislation on procedures to form semi-autonomous regions.
Assessment: The Government of Iraq has made satisfactory progress toward enacting and implementing legislation on procedures to form semi-autonomous regions. The regions law has been passed. Implementation of this legislation should take place after provincial elections are held and after the passage of an updated elections law. The procedures are in place, but whether establishment of additional regions (in addition to the already-recognized KRG) is desirable depends on a number of factors, including the outcome of efforts at constitutional reform. The progress toward this benchmark has been satisfactory, and the effect is that this potentially contentious issue has not been a source of discord.
(v) Enacting and implementing legislation establishing an Independent High Electoral Commission, provincial elections law, provincial council authorities, and a date for provincial elections.
Assessment: There are multiple components to this benchmark, each deserving its own assessment: • Establishing the IHEC Commission: The Government of Iraq has made satisfactory progress toward establishing an IHEC Commission. The Commission has been established.
• Elections Law: The Government of Iraq has not made satisfactory progress toward establishing a provincial elections law. Drafting of the law has just begun.
• Provincial Council Authorities: The Government of Iraq has not made satisfactory progress toward establishing provincial council authorities. The COR is working on legislation, which has had its second reading; however, the COR committee continues to work on revisions to the draft law, and it remains unclear when the legislation will come to a third and final vote by the full COR.
• Provincial Elections Date: The Government of Iraq has not made satisfactory progress toward establishing a date for provincial elections. Legislation required for setting the date has not been enacted.
(vi) Enacting and implementing legislation addressing amnesty.
Assessment: The prerequisites for a successful general amnesty are not present; however, in the current security environment, it is not clear that such action should be a near-term Iraqi goal. The Government of Iraq has established a high-level Government of Iraq Reconciliation Committee to support and oversee efforts of groups that want to oppose AQI and other extremist elements -- working with a joint U.S. Embassy/MNF-I group that is facilitating such actions in coordination with units on the ground. These efforts are more relevant at this point than are general amnesty initiatives. Nonetheless, the Government of Iraq should develop amnesty programs later in the year, so they are ready to be implemented if opportunities arise. Given the absence of the necessary conditions for amnesty, the absence of amnesty legislation has had no effect. The current plan and strategy calls for the passage of such legislation when the necessary conditions are present.
(vii) Enacting and implementing legislation establishing a strong militia disarmament program to ensure that such security forces are accountable only to the central government and loyal to the constitution of Iraq.
Assessment: The prerequisites for a successful militia disarmament program are not present. In fact, international experts, including the U.N., have expressed reservations to advancing this proposal at the present time. The U.N. DDR Advisory Mission to Baghdad Report (April 25 - May 2, 2007) stated, “The Iraq environment makes it most unlikely that traditional DDR can take place, and planning should take this into account.” Likewise, a State Department internal review has shown that the timing is not right for a full-scale DDR program in Iraq. Given the absence of the necessary conditions for DDR, the absence of legislation on militia disarmament has had no effect. The current plan and strategy calls for the passage of such legislation when the necessary conditions are present
(viii) Establishing supporting political, media, economic, and services committees in support of the Baghdad Security Plan.
Assessment: The Government of Iraq has made satisfactory progress toward establishing supporting political, media, economic, and services committees in support of the Baghdad Security Plan. The establishment of the ESC and related subcommittees meets the requirement of the benchmark. Nevertheless, both the U.S. Mission and MNF-I will remain intensively engaged with the ESC to continue to improve its effectiveness and ensure that the subcommittees fulfill the purpose for which they were created as their contribution to date has not been adequate. Progress toward achieving this benchmark has been satisfactory, and we will continue to monitor and engage with the committees to produce a satisfactory effect over the next 60 days. (ix) Providing three trained and ready Iraqi brigades to support Baghdad operations.
Assessment: The Government of Iraq has made satisfactory progress toward providing three trained and ready Iraqi brigades to support Baghdad operations. While manning levels for the deployed Iraqi units continue to be of concern, the Iraqi Government has provided the equivalent of three additional brigades to Baghdad and has made provisions to sustain this level of effort and to address manning issues -- in addition to steadily increasing the strengths of Iraqi units already deployed in Baghdad. The progress toward this benchmark has been satisfactory, and the effect is satisfactory in that the three brigades are operating in support of Baghdad operations.
(x) Providing Iraqi commanders with all authorities to execute this plan and to make tactical and operational decisions in consultation with U.S. Commanders without political intervention to include the authority to pursue all extremists including Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias.
Assessment: The Government of Iraq has not made satisfactory progress toward providing Iraqi commanders with all authorities to execute this plan and to make tactical and operational decisions in consultation with U.S. Commanders without political intervention to include the authority to pursue all extremists including Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias. Iraqi and coalition forces have been given authorities to go after insurgents and militias, but there remains a negative political influence at a variety of levels with evidence of sectarian behavior. Thus, while there has been progress, it has been too uneven to warrant a satisfactory judgment at this time. MNF-I and the Embassy continue to monitor developments for evidence on the transparency of security decision-making and the degree of political or sectarian influence on security operations.
(xi) Ensuring that Iraqi Security Forces are providing even-handed enforcement of the law.
Assessment: The Government of Iraq has not at this time made satisfactory progress in ensuring that Iraqi Security Forces are providing even-handed enforcement of the law; however, there has been significant progress in achieving increased even-handedness through the use of coalition partnering and embedded-transition teams with Iraqi Security Force units.
(xii) Ensuring that, as Prime Minister Maliki was quoted by President Bush as saying, “the Baghdad Security Plan will not provide a safe haven for any outlaws, regardless of sectarian or political affiliation.”
Assessment: The Government of Iraq has made satisfactory progress in ensuring the Baghdad Security Plan does not provide a safe haven for any outlaws, regardless of their sectarian or political affiliations. United States commanders report overall satisfaction with their ability to target any and all extremist groups. United States diplomatic and military personnel continue to engage the Iraqi Government at the highest levels to stress the importance of aggressively targeting all violent groups, regardless of sect or affiliation.
(xiii) Reducing the level of sectarian violence in Iraq and eliminating militia control of local security.
Assessment: The Government of Iraq -- with substantial Coalition assistance -- has made satisfactory progress toward reducing sectarian violence but has shown unsatisfactory progress towards eliminating militia control of local security. Furthermore, though sectarian violence has been reduced, it is not yet reduced to a level the Coalition judges acceptable. The effect of unsatisfactory progress toward eliminating militia control of local security has been negative in terms of perceptions of the authority and fairness of the Government of Iraq. However, this does not necessitate a revision to our current plan and strategy, under which we continue to press the Government of Iraq on these issues and are conducting aggressive operations with Iraqi forces to uproot the command and control of the most violent and destabilizing militia elements in Iraq. (xiv) Establishing all of the planned joint security stations in neighborhoods across Baghdad.
Assessment: The Government of Iraq -- with substantial Coalition assistance -- has made satisfactory progress toward establishing the planned JSSs in Baghdad. As of June 16, Multinational Division-Baghdad reports 32 JSSs have achieved initial operational capability and 36 COPs have achieved initial or full operational capability. This benchmark is on track for completion at the required time.
(xv) Increasing the number of Iraqi security forces units capable of operating independently.
Assessment: The Iraqi Government has made unsatisfactory progress toward increasing the number of Iraqi Security Forces units capable of operating independently. Development of ISF capabilities continues to grow while the ISF increases operational tempo for Operation Fardh al-Qanun. Readiness assessments for the National Police continue to show slow but steady improvement, but we continue to have concerns about the sectarian leaning of some national police units.
(xvi) Ensuring that the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature are protected.
Assessment: The Government of Iraq has made satisfactory progress toward ensuring that the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature are protected. Minority political parties in the COR participate in COR activities in a manner consistent with minority parties in other parliamentary democracies. Women COR members work closely with each other, often across party lines. We anticipate a continued role for minorities and women in the parliament.
(xvii) Allocating and spending $10 billion in Iraqi revenues for reconstruction projects, including delivery of essential services, on an equitable basis.
Assessment: The Iraqi Government is making satisfactory progress in allocating funds to ministries and provinces, but even if the full $10 billion capital budget is allocated, spending units will not be able to spend all these funds by the end of 2007. Execution of the complete 2007 capital budget is a very aggressive target for the Government of Iraq, which expects significant increases in 2007 spending following major initiatives to improve its budget execution processes. Although the trend to date is positive, sustaining progress through September to meet this benchmark at year-end requires accelerated spending and procurement activity, which are challenging tasks in the face of capacity constraints and security problems.
(xviii) Ensuring that Iraq’s political authorities are not undermining or making false accusations against members of the ISF.
Assessment: The Government of Iraq has made unsatisfactory progress in ensuring that Iraq’s political authorities are not undermining or making false accusations against members of the ISF. Accusations that undermine the independence and non-sectarianism of the ISF occur and are not adequately addressed by the Government of Iraq. The effect is at times to deny the ISF the services of qualified officers or to discourage them from operating in a professional non-sectarian manner. However, this does not necessitate a revision to the current plan and strategy, under which we continue to monitor the situation by means of our close involvement with the ISF and to press Iraqi political leaders to refrain from this behavior.