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Hearing of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subject: Iraqi Benchamarks: An Objective Assessment

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

HEARING OF THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS
SUBJECT: IRAQI BENCHMARKS: AN OBJECTIVE ASSESSMENT
CHAIRED BY: REP. TOM LANTOS (D-CA)
WITNESS: DAVID WALKER, COMPTROLLER GENERAL, GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY OFFICE

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DEL. ENI F. H. FALEOMAVAEGA (D-AS): Mr. Chairman, our nation is anxiously awaiting to hear from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker this week on the status of the surge or escalation by adding over 20,000 of our soldiers to provide greater security and proper assistance that our government is giving hopefully to Prime Minister Maliki and the Iraqi government.

While we've been debating this issue of the war for the past five or six years now, whether we should stay or leave, much of the accusations against Prime Minister Maliki for his failures to implement the important reforms that still have not been implemented and for which Prime Minister Maliki, if the media reports are accurate, is saying that we should leave -- quit embarrassing him the way that we've been attacking him for all this time.

I say, Mr. Chairman, our arrogance and ignorance of the situation in the Middle East and downright incompetence in running this war has caused much suffering and tremendous costs in human life, our soldiers and Marines, wounded and maimed for life. Our country remains seriously divided because of the failed policies of running this war.

I will look forward to hearing from our distinguished chairman or the director of the General Accounting (sic) Office for his testimony this afternoon.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

It's always a pleasure to have you, Mr. Walker, testify before this committee.

Back to the question of benchmarks -- I had noticed also that this was in consultation also with Prime Minister Maliki's government. And I'm curious if Prime Minister Maliki -- did the government make their own assessment in terms of how we as a counterpart to this whole effort in the Iraq war, if he had given any assessment of how our conduct, our -- what we were able to -- our failures as well as successes, the same way that we're making assessments towards his government.

MR. WALKER: Well, I haven't asked my counterpart, Dr. Abdul Bassett, who's head of the Supreme Audit Institution in Iraq, whether he's been asked to do anything, but I would doubt it.

DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: I don't know if the media reports are accurate, but as I recall that before the president made his decision to have this surge, if The Washington Post article or the other major papers had made statements to the effect that Prime Minister Maliki advised our president not to send 20,000 soldiers to Iraq, and I don't know if this is accurate. Is there any truth in that?

MR. WALKER: I don't know if there's any truth to that or not, and I don't know that we've done any related work.

No, we haven't.

DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: You'd indicated earlier that the 15 million people that live in Iraq 60 percent are Shi'ites and that the fact that -- would it be accurate as a statement that the primary reason -- the number one priority as to why we waged war against Saddam Hussein was because of the nuclear issue and nothing else? It was the idea of democratizing or regime change and all these others may have been supplemental, but wasn't the number one reason why we waged war against Saddam Hussein was because of the nuclear issue and nothing else?

MR. WALKER: Weapons of mass destruction.

DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: Well, okay, weapons of mass -- is that the similar -- is that the same --

MR. WALKER: At the time, that was the primary reason that was given.

That was in 2003.

DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: It's my understanding that Saddam Hussein in a 20- or 30-year period that he was the dictator in Iraq he tortured and murdered and killed well over 300,000 Shi'ites in that period during his reign. And given the fact that 20 percent of the population is Sunni, the other 20 is Kurds, would it be safe to say that there is just no way that this government is going to give some balance to the Sunni representation? This is going to be a dominated Shi'ite government no matter how we look at it simply because of the population factors.

MR. WALKER: Well, the question (isn't how much ?) they're willing to give. I mean, and that's yet to be determined.

DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: You had indicated earlier also to say that U.S. forces are currently strained. I know the media reports have always quoted generals and our military leaders, but I'm curious if any of the people in the Department of Defense, civilian authority over these military officers, have made any assessments or statements to affirm what you say that our military definitely is strained --

MR. WALKER: Yes.

DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: -- because of the Iraq war.

MR. WALKER: I mean, there have been a number of people from the Pentagon as well as in uniform who have made very similar statements. General Casey is one. You know, you can -- what I'm saying is not new.

DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: There seems to be some question of that. But anyway, you had indicated earlier also that right now we're debt- financing this war. Can you elaborate a little further on that?

MR. WALKER: We're running large deficits. The deficits are larger than advertised because we spend every dime of the Social Security surplus and other government operating expenses. We're not saving any of that. We're replacing the cash with IOUs. And the deficits are scheduled to get worse when baby boomers start retiring, and there are other factors that will effect what the deficits might happen going forward, both on the spending side and on the tax side.

DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: Yeah, there's been a lot of numbers given in terms of exactly how much is the dollar value that we've put into this Iraq war since its beginning. I heard estimates at 600 billion (dollars), but I don't know how accurate is -- what is the --

MR. WALKER: It depends on how you define the war. Well, first let me say Congress has not declared war, only Congress can declare a war. Last time that was done was World War II. But depending upon whether you talk about the global war on terrorism, which would include Iraq, Afghanistan and other activities beyond that, you get a higher number. It's my understanding Iraq -- and again, I'll provide something for the record -- about 400 billion (dollars) to date just for Iraq.

DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: Just for them.

MR. WALKER: That's financial cost. There are other non- financial costs.

DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: Now, there's been some indication of success that we've made in the Anbar province, but that's only one province. How many other provinces do we have in Iraq?

MR. WALKER: Seventeen.

DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: Have there been any assessments in the other provinces besides Anbar? I mean, we're making such a high pitch to say that we're very successful in Anbar, but what about the other 17 provinces?

MR. WALKER: Well, you know, as we reported in the past, there are different degrees of security concerns in different provinces. Some don't have serious security concerns and haven't for a while. Others have very serious security concerns. I think why people focus on Anbar province is it's a total turnaround. And it's not Baghdad. It's close. It's been a province where there has been -- where there has been a sanctuary for al Qaeda and where it was a place where al Qaeda could go to and use as a launch point to go other places.

And clearly, there's been a dramatic change there, but I come back and say how much of that is because of the surge? How much of that is transferable? How much of that is sustainable? And how does it relate to our goals, objectives -- you know, it's reality. I'm not debating that.

DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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