It was not quite the coming attraction the Bush Administration wanted. In a prelude to testimony from US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and top Iraq commander David Petraeus on Tuesday, Congress held a week of jam-packed Iraq-related hearings, attempting to measure the progress–or lack thereof–of the Administration’s troop surge.
Reports were released, generals testified, politicians of both parties squabbled for the upper hand. Amid a barrage of metrics, benchmarks and press releases, I attended four such hearings in two days. Here is what I learned:
♦ Virtually no progress has been made to reconcile Sunnis and Shias; what military progress there has been in places like Anbar province will be difficult to sustain or transfer to other parts of the country.
♦ There is no reliable data to measure whether sectarian or overall violence is down.
♦ The provincial reconstruction teams designed to repair Iraq lack the capacity and continuity to make much of a difference.
♦ Iraq’s military cannot operate independently and their national police should be disbanded.
On day one, David M. Walker, comptroller general of the General Accountability Office, took questions from the House Armed Services Committee about the GAO’s assessment that the Iraqi security forces and parliament had only met three of the eighteen benchmarks for progress that were agreed upon by Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki.
Republicans tried to turn Walker’s testimony away from the the dysfunctional legislature and US-dependent military described in the report, to look at recent gains in Anbar province.
“The benchmarks have turned a blind eye to progress,” said Representative Joe Sexton of New Jersey. “To be accurate the surge is working.”
But Walker countered that Sunni unification in Anbar province against al-Qaida in Iraq might be a matter of temporary expedience. “There is a saying in that region of the world that the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” he said. “How long will the Sunnis in Anbar and the U.S. be friends?” Walker also doubted that the progress in the mostly Sunni region, which was the site of the President’s visit to Iraq Monday, could be transferred to other parts of the country.
He testified that he did not trust the methodology of military data on sectarian violence, which Democrats have said is cooked. But after nearly 45 minutes of discussion on the issue declared, “Is this even a relevant debate? Violence is violence.” And overall violence, Walker noted, has been always been down in August, right before the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
That afternoon Iraq Deputy Inspector General Ginger Cruz painted an even bleaker–and largely overlooked–picture of the pace of US reconstruction in Iraq. Cruz testified that only 29 of 610 provincial reconstruction team members in Iraq can speak Arabic. “Given the admittedly dismal state of essential services in most parts of the country,” Cruz she told the House Appropriations and Investigations subcommittee,” it is hard to paint a picture that diverges from reality and retain credibility with the Iraqi citizens who suffer from a lack of security, a lack of services, a working justice system or a working economy.”