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GAO report faults Bush Iraq strategy

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A Government Accountability Office report released yesterday asserts that the Bush administration's Iraq strategy is inadequate and was poorly planned, backing up some politicians' charges that a prolonged stay in the country is only fueling sectarian violence.

David M. Walker, the U.S. comptroller general, told lawmakers that President Bush did not give proper consideration to conditions on the ground and said the administration is not demanding accountability for the $1.5 billion per week that the United States spends in Iraq.

Details from the report, which included descriptions of a bloated Iraqi bureaucracy and widespread mismanagement of reconstruction funding, were revealed at a House subcommittee hearing called by Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican.

"I am not afraid we will lose the war in Iraq, in Iraq," said Mr. Shays, one of the most politically endangered House Republicans. Mr. Shays is a moderate whose district is strongly Democratic. "I am deeply concerned we will lose the war in Iraq here at home."

Also yesterday, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, suggested that sectarian violence will continue in Iraq because the administration lacks a victory plan.

"After all of our achievements -- and they are real, they are significant -- the larger reality is that Iraq and the success of our mission there remains a prisoner to terrible and growing violence and a lack of a plan to stop it," he said.

Mr. Biden, who has said he will pursue a White House bid in 2008, and Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, toured Iraq last week and noted a lack of basic civilian services such as trash collection and running water, as well as an increasing unemployment rate that is exacerbating the growth of insurgent groups.

"I still don't see a strategy for victory in Iraq. The only strategy I see is the strategy to prevent outright defeat," Mr. Biden said.

Mr. Reed, the co-sponsor of a failed measure to begin "phased redeployment" of troops from Iraq by Dec. 31, agreed.

Mr. Walker told the House Government Reform subcommittee on national security, emerging threats and international relations that the Bush administration plan lacks transparency, including details of which agencies are responsible for the various efforts in Iraq and how the U.S. role will evolve as more Iraqi forces become prepared.

Most striking was the charge that the administration has not given Congress enough information on the estimated costs and funding sources, making a price tag for reconstruction impossible to calculate because the length of time U.S. forces will remain is not clear.

"We still don't know how long we're going to be there," Mr. Walker said.

The GAO report recommends that the National Security Council outline a comprehensive strategy for Iraq with "milestones" and "metrics" so Congress can assess the progress and the problems on the ground.

Ambassador James Jeffrey, senior adviser to the secretary of state for Iraq, told the subcommittee that the administration is heartened by Iraq's new government and impressed with Iraqi courage.

Mr. Shays, who last month voted in favor of a symbolic House resolution that rejected a timetable for troop withdrawal, said bringing home U.S. troops before Iraqi forced are prepared would be outrageous.

Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican, said the United States must remain with Iraq as part of the war on terror.

"We have to be ready and willing to stay the course. That course may take some time," he said. "This is something we can't back away from, even though, I agree with you, there's a lot of shortcomings."

Lawmakers said voters want to know when troops will start to come home.

Mr. Biden, who voted in favor of the "phased redeployment" proposal last month, said U.S. military leaders in Iraq made it clear that they intend to withdraw some troops this year and that Iraqi officials support such a move.