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Factchecking Iraq Progress Report
National Security Network Questions Meaning of "Satisfactory"
07/12/2007 7:00 PM ET
Progress evaluations always require some level of subjective assessment, but one progressive national security outfit is charging the White House's interim report with creatively describing Iraqi movement on some benchmarks to support the conclusion that "satisfactory" progress had been made.

Ilan Goldenberg of the National Security Network writes, "The facts show that this moniker is misleading. Some benchmarks claimed as 'satisfactory' only demonstrate minimal progress, not achievement. Others have been achieved on the surface, but fail to accomplish the overall purpose of the specific measurement."

Benchmark Report Fact Check

By Ilan Goldenberg

Benchmark (i)

Assessment: The Government of Iraq has made satisfactory progress toward forming a Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) and then completing the constitutional review.

Response: The committee reviewing the constitution has experienced numerous delays. Most of the highly contested issues have been put off. Even if the government managed to pass the constitution, there would still need to be a national referendum.

The initial version of the constitution drafted in 2005 was viewed as unfair by the Sunnis, who only accepted it after a clause was added to allow them to amend it later. The key issues regarding the constitution are: federalism, or the right of provinces to attain “regional” status with more power than one province alone, the future of a referendum on the status of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, whether Iraq should be considered an Arab country, and the reduction of the power of the Prime Minister while granting more power to the President. The way the Constitution is currently structured, Sunnis are put at a significant disadvantage on all of these fronts.

The Constitutional Review Committee has been slow to show progress. The Committee was originally scheduled to complete its work by May 15. Instead, it delivered a draft that did not address many of the key issues, and tried to pass the responsibility off to the political leadership. The deadline has been extended multiple times because of a failure to come to an agreement. A new draft is due at the end of July. One of the leaders of the Committee, Sheik Humam Hamoudi, believes that it might take even longer stating, “We have not committed to doing it by September... Maybe the American Congress has made such a commitment, but we have not.”

Even if the Constitutional Committee came to an agreement on step one, actually getting the amendments passed would be extraordinarily complicated. The parliament must vote on the amendments after they make it out of committee. If they pass parliament, the amendments must then win a majority from the public in a nationwide referendum. As an additional hurdle, at least three of Iraq’s eighteen provinces would have to register two-thirds approval.

Benchmark (viii)

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.

Response: Establishing committees has had little impact on Baghdad’s population which still lacks access to many basic services like water and electricity.

In late May and early June, Baghdad suffered severe power and water shortages of up to 23 hours per day. Baghdad’s water pumping stations require electricity and currently, more than 8 of the 12 supply lines are down. With average highs topping 110˚F in July and August the situation has the potential to get even worse. Meanwhile, Baghdadis are forced to find their own water supply. Neighborhood co-ops are purchasing and running their own fuel-driven generators. Those who can afford to try and dig wells in their backyard, an expensive operation which also seriously affects the water table.

Baghdad is still averaging only 5.6 hours of electricity per day. This number represents only 20% of prewar production levels. The Bush Administration’s Coalition Provisional Authority initially targeted 6,000 megawatts per day by June of 2004 and made the creation of a stable Iraqi electrical and water infrastructure a top priority. Iraq is still 40% below those levels. The average amount of electricity generated nationally in May (The last full month of reporting) was only 3,722 megawatts, a 6% drop-off from prewar levels. This, despite an effort to distribute electricity more equitably on a national level.

Not enough potable water exists in Iraq. According to the International Red Cross, “both the quantity and quality of drinking water in Iraq remain insufficient despite limited improvement...water is often contaminated, owing to the poor repair of sewage and water-supply networks and the discharge of untreated sewage into rivers, which are the main source of drinking water.”

Benchmark (ix)

Assessment: The Government of Iraq has made satisfactory progress toward providing three trained and ready Iraqi brigades to support Baghdad operations.

Response: According to military officials the three brigades that came to Baghdad were understaffed and poorly trained causing a major delay in Baghdad security operations.

The Baghdad Security Plan is failing to meet its security targets partly due to a lack of Iraqi Security Forces. As of June, three months after the start of the Baghdad Security Plan, American and Iraqi forces controlled less than one-third of the city’s neighborhoods, far short of the initial goal. Brig. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks said that while military planners had expected to make greater gains that have not been possible in large part because Iraqi police and army units ― which were expected to handle basic security tasks like manning checkpoints and conducting patrols ― have not provided all the forces promised, and in some cases have performed poorly.

The number of available-for-duty security forces (including police) is only about one-half to two-thirds of the 330,000 Iraqis that is cited by the military. The discrepancy is due to the fact that many troops have gone AWOL, quit the military, or are on leave.

Benchmark (xiii)

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.

Response: Estimates of civilian casualties in Iraq remain roughly the same as they were when the surge began in February.

Sectarian violence has remained constant despite the “surge.” Although sectarian violence in Baghdad dropped in the first two months of the surge, civilian casualties nationwide rose and averaged more than 100 per day in June. Despite the early drop in sectarian killings, data from the Baghdad morgue gathered by The Brookings Institution shows the civilian casualties to be higher in June than when the surge began in February.

Some of the ugliest instances of sectarian violence have occurred during the “surge”. In late March, a truck bomb in a Shi’a neighborhood killed 150 people. Shi’a controlled police units responded by systematically kidnapping and murdering 70 Sunnis. Just this past week, a suicide truck bombing in a remote village in northern Iraq claimed a death toll around 150, making it one of the deadliest single bombings, if not the deadliest, since the 2003 invasion.

In response to an attack last weekend, the Sunni Vice President of Iraq called for arming citizens for self-defense at government expense. In response to a set of attacks this weekend Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi stated that, “The citizen has the right to be protected by the government and the security apparatus... but when there are failures there is no alternative or there is no escape but for people to defend themselves.”

Benchmark (xiv)

Assessment: The Government of Iraq -- with substantial Coalition assistance -- has made satisfactory progress toward establishing the planned Joint Security Stations in Baghdad.

Response: While the Joint Security Stations have been established there is little to indication that they are having a substantial impact on security and in some cases are actually making Iraqis feel less safe.

US neighborhood outposts in Baghdad - key to the “surge” strategy - are supposed to make Iraqis feel safer. Instead, American troops say they are doing the opposite. The outposts, along with joint U.S.-Iraqi security stations, form a cornerstone of the current Iraq strategy. Iraqis who live nearby say they feel less safe now, because many of the bases have quickly become magnets for rocket and mortar attacks. When attacks miss the troops, they often hit Iraqi civilians. For some, the risk of rocket attacks might be worth it if the Americans were driving away Shi’a Muslim militias that many say act as death squads. But some junior soldiers say that Al Mahdi militiamen loyal to anti-U.S. Shi’a cleric Muqtada Sadr are able to conduct more "patrols" of the area than can the U.S. Army. "The Mahdi army goes around to the houses more than we do," said Pfc. John Evans.

Benchmark (xvi)

Assessment: The Government of Iraq has made satisfactory progress toward ensuring that the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature are protected.

Response: The Sunnis - one of the largest and most important minority groups – are currently boycotting the government.

The largest Sunni Group – the Iraqi Accordance Front – is boycotting the government. Minority groups feel sidelined in the unity government and have recently boycotted the government in order to win fairer treatment. The Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front, along with the Shi’a Sadrist movement, is boycotting cabinet and legislature meetings due to disagreements with Prime Minister Maliki. One of Iraq's two vice presidents, Tarek al-Hashemi, a Sunni, remarked, “We haven't achieved anything after a year of participating in the government. We are depressed and sidelined, especially in terms of decision-making.”

The Iraqi Accordance Front is also boycotting because and arrest warrant was issued for one of its Cabinet Ministers in association with a political assassination in 2005. “Leaders of the Iraqi Accordance Front, which has six Cabinet posts and 44 seats in the 275-member parliament, said its ministers would step down indefinitely. The bloc's spokesman, Salim Abdullah Jabouri, said it had demanded an apology for the culture minister, the target of the investigation, and compensation for damage allegedly done to his home during a police raid this week. Hashimi is suspected of involvement in a February 2005 assassination attempt on another Sunni Muslim lawmaker, Mithal Alusi, who lost his two sons, Amal and Gamal, in the shooting.

The Iraqi Parliament remains split by sectarianism. The speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, was recently removed. He had previously gotten into a shouting match with a Shi'a Turkoman lawmaker, who then complained to fellow legislators that he was also assaulted by al-Mashhadani's guards. He also accused the Iraqi Parliament of supporting sectarian violence stating "Three-quarters of those sitting here are responsible for the displacements and the sectarian killings, and now you're calling yourselves patriots?"

In addition to critiquing the White House assessment, the NSN has also put together its own interim report on Iraqi progress, delving into detail on the specifics of each benchmark. Being a progressive organization, the NSN would be expected to declare the surge a failure as much as the Bush Administration would be expected to label it a success. Even so, the report cites the news stories and reports that lead it to draw its conclusions, making it worthy of review. NSN_Interim_Benchmark_Report.pdf

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