President George W.
Bush�s Iraq troop �surge,� which is now ending, got a mixed report card from
congressional investigators, who found that many of Bush�s stated goals
Accountability Office (GAO) reported that violence in Iraq has dropped over the
past year, but that the training of Iraqi security forces still lags, Sunni
insurgents have not been defeated, cease-fires with Shiite militias remain
fragile, and political reconciliation has not been achieved.
The supposed success
of the �surge� has become a central issue in the presidential campaign, with
Republican candidate John McCain and many of his press allies accusing Democrat
Barack Obama of refusing to admit that he was wrong to oppose the troop
increase in 2007.
Obama has argued
that several factors, which pre-dated the �surge,� contributed to the decline
in violence, including the decision by Sunni tribal leaders in 2006 to turn
against the indiscriminate violence of al-Qaeda extremists and a cease-fire
declared by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
detailed account provoked an angry retort from McCain, who told CBS News anchor
Katie Couric, �I don�t know how you respond to something that is such a false
depiction of what happened.�
later was forced to amend his comments during a campaign stop in Bethlehem,
Pennsylvania, where he acknowledged that the so-called Anbar Awakening did
begin in 2006, months before Bush announced the �surge� in January 2007.
McCain claimed that
he was defining the �surge� more broadly to include counter-insurgency
strategies that pre-dated Bush�s announced �surge.�
The GAO update on
evaluating the �surge� noted that, according to the Department of Defense, �in
June 2008, less than 10 percent of Iraqi security forces were at the highest
readiness level and therefore considered capable of performing operations
without coalition support.
The report, entitled
�Securing, Stabilizing, and Rebuilding Iraq: Progress Report: Some Gains Made,
Updated Strategy Needed,� added, �The security environment remains volatile and
dangerous. DOD reports that the United States has not achieved its goal of
defeating al-Qaeda in Iraq, local security forces (such as �Sons of Iraq�) have
not reconciled with the central government, and the cease-fire agreement with
[al-Sadr�s] Mahdi Army remains tenuous.�
independent Iraqi security force was one of the benchmarks established by
Congress and it was a commitment made by the Iraqi government prior to the
�surge.� But maintaining a loyal security force has been problematic, the GAO
have complicated the development of capable Iraqi security forces, including
the lack of a single unified force, sectarian and militia influences, continued
dependence on U.S. and coalition forces for logistics and combat support, and
training and leadership shortages,� the report said.
administration �also stated that the Iraqi government would take responsibility
for security in all 18 provinces by November 2007. However, as of mid-July
2008, eight provincial governments do not yet have lead responsibility for
security in their provinces,� the GAO said.
According to the
U.S. commander in Iraq, the U.S.-led coalition �continues to provide planning,
logistics, and other assistance even after security responsibilities have
transferred to provincial Iraqi control,� the GAO said.
The �surge,� part of
the Bush administration�s �New Way Forward� plan, ends this month, as U.S.
troop levels drop back to about 130,000, where they were before the �surge�
began in the first several months of 2007. As of June, there were 153,000 U.S.
soldiers in Iraq.
The GAO said the
administration still does not have a post-surge strategy in place to deal with
�uncertainties� on the ground. The State and Defense departments rebuffed the
GAO�s recommendations to update the post-surge strategy in Iraq.
that [the Pentagon] and State, in conjunction with relevant U.S. agencies,
develop an updated strategy for Iraq,� the report said. �DOD and State
disagreed asserting that the �New Way Forward� remains valid and that the Joint
Campaign Plan guides U.S. efforts in Iraq.�
But the GAO warned
that the �New Way Forward� merely articulates U.S. goals and objectives and the
Joint Campaign Plan is not a �strategic plan� but an �operational plan with
limitations,� much of which remains classified.
Since 2003, the GAO
has issued about 140 reports related to the Iraq War. The GAO based its latest
progress report on documents and interviews with officials from the Pentagon,
State and the Treasury; the Multinational Force in Iraq; the Defense
Intelligence Agency; the National Intelligence Council; and the United Nations.
The agency also said it reviewed translated copies of Iraqi documents
The GAO report said
�violence -- as measured by enemy-initiated attacks -- decreased about 80
percent from June 2007 to June 2008.�
surge was an admission by Bush administration officials that their prewar
planning for the occupation of Iraq was a disaster and that it was a mistake to
ignore advice by career military officials to deploy more troops before the
March 2003 invasion.
In February 2003,
Army Chief of Staff General Shinseki testified before the Senate Armed Services
Committee and said several hundred thousand soldiers would likely be needed to
maintain order in post-invasion Iraq.
publicly criticized by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy,
Paul Wolfowitz, and was forced into an early retirement.
Rumsfeld denied, in
an Oct. 12, 2002, interview with the New York Times that he overrode requests
by military brass to deploy more ground troops in Iraq. But he said the
cornerstone of the Iraq War plan was to use fewer ground troops.
angered some in the military who said overwhelming numerical superiority was
needed to assure victory, minimize combat casualties, and restore order quickly
As of June 2008,
more than 4,100 U.S. troops have died in Iraq, along with an estimated 1.2
million Iraqis. The United Nations also estimates that 2.7 million Iraqis have
been displaced in Iraq and two million additional Iraqis have fled the country,
primarily to Jordan and Syria.
The 21-page GAO
report added that the surge was supposed to lead to accomplishments beyond a
drop in violence. In that regard, the plan has not had much success, the GAO
�In the legislative
area, Iraq has enacted key legislation to return some Ba�athists to government,
grant amnesty to detained Iraqis, and define provincial powers,� the GAO said.
remain about how the laws will be implemented and whether the intended outcomes
can be achieved. Additionally, Iraq has not yet passed legislation that will
provide the legal framework for sharing oil revenues, disarming militias, and
holding provincial elections.
government also faces logistical and security challenges in holding the
scheduled 2008 provincial elections -- a key element of reconciliation for
Sunnis. Finally, the government has not completed its constitutional review to
resolve issues such as the status of disputed territories and the balance of
power between federal and regional governments.�
Leopold is the author of �News Junkie,� a memoir. Visit
for a preview. His new website is The