Initial Benchmark Assessment Report

The White House released the Initial Benchmark Assessment Report earlier today.

This report to Congress is submitted consistent with Section 1314 of the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act, 2007 (Public Law 110-28) (the "Act"). It includes an assessment of how the sovereign Government of Iraq is performing in its efforts to achieve a series of specific benchmarks contained in the Act, as well as any adjustments to strategy that may be warranted in light of that performance. This is the first of two reports to be submitted consistent with the Act and has been prepared in consultation with the Secretaries of State and Defense; Commander, Multi-National Forces-Iraq; the United States Ambassador to Iraq; and the Commander of United States Central Command, consistent with Section 1314(b)(2)(B) of the Act. This assessment complements other reports and information about Iraq provided to the Congress and is not intended as a single source of all information about the combined efforts or the future strategy of the United States, its Coalition Partners, or Iraq.

Here are the "bottom-line" findings (excerpted from the report) on achievements and shortfalls (bolded emphasis SWJ):

This report provides, consistent with the Act, an assessment of how the Iraqi Government is performing on 18 specified benchmarks, rather than the effects being generated. Some of the benchmarks may be leading indicators, giving some sense of future trends; but many are more accurately characterized as lagging indicators, and will only be achieved after the strategy is fully underway and generates improved conditions on the ground.

The security situation in Iraq remains complex and extremely challenging. Iraqi and Coalition Forces continue to emphasize population security operations in Baghdad, its environs, and Anbar province to combat extremist networks, and create the space for political reconciliation and economic growth. As a result of increased offensive operations, Coalition and Iraqi Forces have sustained increased attacks in Iraq, particularly in Baghdad, Diyala, and Salah ad Din. Tough fighting should be expected through the summer as Coalition and Iraqi Forces seek to seize the initiative from early gains and shape conditions for longer-term stabilization.

Moving key legislation depends on deal-making among major players in a society deeply divided along sectarian, ethnic, and other lines. Meaningful and lasting progress on national reconciliation may also require a sustained period of reduced violence in order to build trust. For this reason, most of the major political benchmarks identified in the legislation-- i.e., final passage of monumental pieces of legislation through Iraq's Council of Representatives by consensus-- are lagging indicators of whether or not the strategy is succeeding or is going to be successful.

Iran and Syria have continued to foster instability in Iraq. As noted, Iran funds extremist groups to promote attacks against Coalition and Iraqi forces, and the Iraqi Government. We see little change in Iran's policy of seeking U.S. defeat through direct financial and material support for attacks against U.S. military and civilians in Iraq. Iran is engaging in similar activities in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, foreign fighters (especially suicide bombers) continue to use Syrian territory as their main transit route to Iraq. The Syrian Government also allows major insurgent organizers and financiers to operate in Damascus.

The economic picture is uneven. Key economic indicators paint a modestly improved picture— unemployment has eased slightly and inflation is currently abating. Government revenue is steady due to high oil prices, but the Iraqi Government has not yet made needed investments to increase oil and refining output. Private-sector activity is picking up in some areas, notably the more than $1 billion that have been invested in wireless telecoms, but investors remain wary due to poor security and the continuing need for a stronger legal framework.

On the Current U.S. Strategy - New Way Forward:

Current U.S. strategy -- the New Way Forward -- recognizes that the fulfillment of commitments by both the U.S. and Iraqi Governments will be necessary to achieving our common goal: a democratic Iraq that can govern, defend, and sustain itself, and be an ally in the War on Terror. The building of a strong strategic partnership with the Iraqi Government will be an important part of the effort to achieve this end state, which remains a long-term goal, and requires the application of all elements of national power, including especially diplomatic, economic, and political power.

While our overarching strategy continues to emphasize a transition of responsibility to the Iraqi Government and its security forces, the New Way Forward recognized that, in response to the upsurge in sectarian violence in 2006, it was necessary for Coalition Forces to temporarily play a greater role, in conjunction with the Iraqi Security Forces, in securing the Iraqi population. This is not meant to replace Iraqi efforts to provide security, but to help provide the necessary time and space with which the Iraqi Government can continue to build its own capacity, can intensify efforts against the accelerants of the violence, especially al-Qaida in Iraq and some segments of the Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM), and can meaningfully address the all-important issue of reconciliation among the various segments of Iraqi society. The strategy recognizes that the levels of violence seen in 2006 undermined efforts to achieve political reconciliation by fueling sectarian tensions, emboldening extremists, and discrediting the Coalition and Iraqi Government. Amid such violence, it became significantly harder for Iraqi leaders to make the difficult compromises necessary to foster reconciliation.

At the same time, we have increased our efforts to help build the capacity of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). Relying on lessons learned from our experience in training and equipping the ISF, we have significantly enhanced our training and mentoring commitment. We will continue this commitment through a combination of partnering Coalition units with Iraqi Army and Police organizations and embedding transition team personnel with the majority of ISF units. U.S commanders are committed to helping the Iraqi government expand the size of the ISF to make it a more capable counter-insurgency force.

We are also increasing our efforts to build Iraqi governmental capacity not just at the national level, but at the provincial and local levels as well. Most notably, this has required an expansion of our Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) program with 10new civilian PRTs paired with Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs), and giving PRT leaders and BCT commanders additional authorities, resources, and personnel. These leaders are charged with supporting moderate elements against extremists in their areas of responsibility and launching projects that have an immediate impact in areas cleared of terrorists and insurgents.

Expansion of the PRT program is not yet complete, with only about half of the approximately 300 additional PRT personnel deployed to date. The full complement of "civilian surge" personnel will be completed by December 2007. In addition, economic assistance funds provided by Congress in the Act for Iraq have yet to be released. As provided for in the Act, the President has waived certain restrictions on a portion of these funds in a determination, which is being provided to Congress separately.

For more on current U.S. strategy see Dave Kilcullen's SWJ post Understanding Current Operations in Iraq.

On the 18 Congressional benchmarks concerning the Iraqi Government:

1. The Government of Iraq has made satisfactory progress toward forming a Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) and then completing the constitutional review.

2. The Government of Iraq has not made satisfactory progress toward enacting and implementing legislation on de-Ba'athification reform.

3. The current status is unsatisfactory, but it is too early to tell whether the Government of Iraq will enact and implement legislation to ensure the equitable distribution of hydrocarbon resources to all Iraqis.

4. The Government of Iraq has made satisfactory progress toward enacting and implementing legislation on procedures to form semi-autonomous regions.

5. The Government of Iraq has made satisfactory progress toward establishing an Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) Commission. The Government of Iraq has not made satisfactory progress toward establishing a provincial elections law. The Government of Iraq has not made satisfactory progress toward establishing provincial council authorities. The Government of Iraq has not made satisfactory progress toward establishing a date for provincial elections.

6. The prerequisites for a successful general amnesty are not present; however, in the current security environment, it is not clear that such action should be a near-term Iraqi goal.

7. The prerequisites for a successful militia disarmament program are not present.

8. The Government of Iraq has made satisfactory progress toward establishing supporting political, media, economic, and services committees in support of the Baghdad Security Plan.

9. The Government of Iraq has made satisfactory progress toward providing three trained and ready Iraqi brigades to support Baghdad operations.

10. The Government of Iraq has not made satisfactory progress toward providing Iraqi commanders with all authorities to execute this plan and to make tactical and operational decisions in consultation with U.S. Commanders without political intervention to include the authority to pursue all extremists including Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias.

11. The Government of Iraq has not at this time made satisfactory progress in ensuring that Iraqi Security Forces are providing even-handed enforcement of the law; however, there has been significant progress in achieving increased even-handedness through the use of coalition partnering and embedded-transition teams with Iraqi Security Force units.

12. The Government of Iraq has made satisfactory progress in ensuring the Baghdad Security Plan does not provide a safe haven for any outlaws, regardless of their sectarian or political affiliations.

13. The Government of Iraq— with substantial Coalition assistance— has made satisfactory progress toward reducing sectarian violence but has shown unsatisfactory progress towards eliminating militia control of local security.

14. The Government of Iraq -- with substantial Coalition assistance -- has made satisfactory progress toward establishing the planned JSSs (Joint Security Stations) in Baghdad.

15. The Iraqi Government has made unsatisfactory progress toward increasing the number of Iraqi Security Forces units capable of operating independently.

16. The Government of Iraq has made satisfactory progress toward ensuring that the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature are protected.

17. The Iraqi Government is making satisfactory progress in allocating funds to ministries and provinces, but even if the full $10 billion capital budget is allocated, spending units will not be able to spend all these funds by the end of 2007.

18. The Government of Iraq has made unsatisfactory progress in ensuring that Iraq's political authorities are not undermining or making false accusations against members of the ISF (Iraqi Security Force).

Much more at the link...

Discuss at Small Wars Council

Press Links:

White House: President's Press Conference

Washington Post: President Unbowed as Benchmarks Are Unmet

Washington Times: Bush Asks for More Time

New York Times: Firm Bush Tells Congress Not to Dictate War Policy

Los Angeles Times: Bush Quiets GOP Revolt over Iraq

Baltimore Sun: Bush Reports Progress on Iraq

Chicago Tribune: Sober Report on Iraq

Boston Globe: As Bush Stays Firm, House Votes Pullout

Miami Herald: Bush Cautiously Optimistic on Iraqi Forces

USA Today: House Votes Against War as Bush Defends It

Christian Science Monitor: Bush Report Sharpens Iraq Debate

Associated Press: Iraq War Report Implies Longer US Surge

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