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Report finds little progress in Iraq

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Comptroller denies changes to draft were due to administration pressure
  • GAO report says Iraq has met three, partially met four benchmarks
  • Congress set benchmarks in war-spending bill
  • White House says report still shows progress; Bush report due next week
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Iraq has failed to meet 11 of the 18 benchmarks the U.S. Congress set when it approved a war-spending bill in May, the Government Accountability Office reported Tuesday.

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President Bush will give his progress report on Iraq next week, based on information from Gen. David Petraeus.

Iraq has met three of the benchmarks and "partially met" four, the GAO said, but the congressional agency was pessimistic on the overall progress of the Iraqi government.

"Overall, key legislation has not been passed, violence remains high, and it is unclear whether the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion in reconstruction funds," according to testimony from David M. Walker, comptroller general, to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

But it did offer grounds for hope.

"These results do not diminish the courageous efforts of coalition forces and progress that has been made in several areas, including Anbar province," Walker said in comments released Tuesday.

Walker also said a goal of reducing sectarian violence was unmet.

"While the Baghdad security plan was intended to reduce sectarian violence, it is unclear whether violence has been reduced," Walker said in prepared testimony. "Measuring such violence may be difficult since the perpetrators' intents are not clearly known. Other measures, such as the number of enemy-initiated attacks, show that violence has remained high through July 2007."

Goals listed as met in the GAO report include:

• Ensuring the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature are protected.

• Establishing joint security stations in Baghdad neighborhoods.

• Setting up committees to support the Baghdad security plan.

The GAO indicated there were partial successes for enacting legislation to form semiautonomous regions, creating three Iraqi brigades to support Baghdad operations, ensuring the Iraqi government will not provide a sanctuary for outlaws and spending of $10 billion in reconstruction aid.

The $10 billion in Iraqi revenues, Walker said, had been allocated, but it appeared "unlikely" that it would be spent on necessary projects.

A Defense Department official said that the Pentagon argued that more progress has been made on sectarian violence and that it should get a partially met grade, but the GAO marked that goal as unmet.

The report also said the State Department argued some of the benchmarks related to a constitutional committee, legislation dealing with oil revenue, the creation of election commissions and the creation of Iraqi brigades were partially met.

In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Walker said he made changes to a draft version of the report sought by the Pentagon based on new classified information provided by his staff and denied the changes were made due to administration pressure.

Walker said he had decided to make the changes before Defense Department officials had contacted the GAO.

Top U.S. officials, including President Bush, have said they are disappointed by the Iraqi government's slow rate of progress toward a political resolution of the country's insurgent and sectarian warfare.

The benchmarks were created by lawmakers as part of a $120 billion war-spending bill passed in May, which asked the GAO -- the investigative arm of Congress -- to give a definitive answer as to whether each benchmark was met or not, instead of reporting partial progress. Read the rankings of the benchmarks »

White House spokesman Tony Snow said Thursday that it was "no secret" that the Iraqis would not meet many of the standards set by Congress, but he added that "what is significant is that there is progress toward a great number of them."

"The real question that people have is, 'What's going on in Iraq? Are we making progress? Militarily, is the surge having an impact?' " Snow said. "The answer's yes. There's just no question about it."

White House spokesman Tony Fratto reiterated the White House's position that people should wait until the testimony of Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus -- as well as the president's report -- in two weeks, saying that "will be more useful ... for a more thorough picture of the current status in Iraq and recommendations for the future."

The GAO submitted the draft to the State and Defense departments for their review before publication. A senior defense official said some of the benchmarks involve multipart questions and have been partially met.

The Democratic leaders of Congress, who have pushed unsuccessfully for an end to the war since taking control in January, said the GAO report is fresh evidence the president needs to begin extracting the United States from the now-unpopular conflict.

Congress also will hear in the coming days a report from an independent commission led by retired Marine Gen. James Jones, the former top U.S. commander in Europe, about the progress of Iraq's security forces.

Next week, the Bush administration will release its own report assessing progress on the 18 benchmarks defined in the war spending bill.

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That report will be based on information provided by Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Crocker, who will testify next week before several congressional committees about the White House assessment.

Bush has urged Americans to reserve judgment on whether the troop increase -- known as the surge -- is working until hearing their evaluation, since they're on the ground in Iraq. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Jessica Yellin, Jamie McIntyre and Elise Labott contributed to this report.

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