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 remained unmet.
The Government Accountability Office 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.
However, McCain 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 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.”
Creating an 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 found.
Several factors 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.
The Bush 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.
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.