A HEARING OF THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN RELATIONS
SUBJECT: IRAQ: AN INDEPENDENT ASSESSMENT
CHAIRED BY: SENATOR JOHN KERRY (D-MA)
WITNESS: DAVID WALKER, COMPTROLLER GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES, U.S. GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY OFFICE, WASHINGTON, D.C.
SEN. KERRY: (Sounds gavel.) Good afternoon. This hearing of the Foreign Relations Committee will come to order.
I appreciate, Mr. Walker, your coming before the committee today for this very important beginning of a series of analyses that will be made over the course of the next weeks with respect to our policy in Iraq. This is obviously crunch time, an important time for the country, for Iraq, for our soldiers, for the American people and for all of the interests that are at stake here.
September has been much talked about, much waited and now it's here. And so we're prepared to look carefully and diligently, and I know thoughtfully, at all of the issues that are on the table before us. I appreciate your willingness to adjust your schedule to testify today. And needless to say, you can tell from the presence of the committee here already, that the committee is deeply interested in the conclusions and in your analysis.
The GAO has happily earned the reputation for objective, factual analysis, and it's something that has been tragically in short supply in Washington, and particularly in short supply with respect to the debate over Iraq before the war, during the war and even today, as the occupation extends into its fourth year. That is precisely why Congress asked for this nonpartisan assessment on whether the 18 key benchmarks for measuring political security and economic progress -- as originally agreed to by the Iraqi government in June of 2006 -- have been met. Let me emphasize that: We are here to measure whether that which the Iraqi government itself promised to achieve has been achieved. And I might add that your conclusion is an important one and one that's going to be much thought about here.
In your report "Securing, Stabilizing and Rebuilding Iraq," in a headline on the front page it says, "The Iraqi government has not met most legislative, security and economic benchmarks." So that assessment, needless to say, is at odds with some other trial-balloon assessments that have been floated in recent days. And hopefully, we can establish here some kind of benchmark ourselves as to what it is we ought to be measuring.
Let me emphasize -- I think I do this in a bipartisan way on behalf of all of our committee members -- we're not looking for a Democrat and we're not looking for a Republican. We're not looking for a liberal or a conservative outlook here. We're looking for the truth. We're looking for the facts and we're looking for the best policy for the United States of America. And that means the best policy for our troops and for our interests in the region and we obviously all want those interests to dovetail with the interests of the people who live in that region. That's when you have the best foreign policy. That's why Congress asked for this report on these 18 benchmarks, and we're seeking here to get an accurate picture of where we are in Iraq and of where we go from here.
But as I said, it is inescapable, and unavoidable, to ignore the bottom line conclusion of your report, which says that the Iraqi government has met three, partially met four, and did not meet 11 of its 18 benchmarks. Overall, key legislation has not been passed. Violence remains high. It remains unclear whether the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion in reconstruction funds. In other words, only three of these 18 benchmarks have actually been met as we meet here.
And I want to emphasize one other point: We keep hearing some folks talking publicly about whether some particular tactical deployment of the number of troops in Anbar or some other particular province has been successful. I think everyone has acknowledged that it is possible with an increase of troops in a particular small area to gain some kind of tactical advantage. That is not what is at issue here. The fundamental purpose of the surge was to give the Iraqi government the breathing room to make the decisions necessary to be able to achieve the benchmarks. And when we see that even after its full implementation those benchmarks are as far from being reached as they are, it is hard to draw any assessment except that there is a failing grade for a policy that is still not working.
This conclusion appears to contrast with at least some aspects of what we've heard as interim assessments of the benchmarks. Those delivered to Congress in July, which found, and I quote, "that satisfactory progress had been made in meeting eight of the 18 benchmarks." In particular, there seems to be some disagreement over whether the security situation has actually improved, whether the Iraqis have provided the three brigades required for the Baghdad security plan, and whether the Iraqis are meeting their commitments with respect to spending reconstruction funds. I also emphasize that we recognize the difference between making progress and actually meeting benchmarks. And these discrepancies, nevertheless, raise questions about the information that we're receiving from other sources about the war in Iraq.
We also need to be certain that the GAO received the full cooperation and support of the Department of Defense and the White House in preparing this report. One thing we all agree on is that the escalation did have this one single, simple goal: to create breathing room for Iraqis themselves to make the political compromises that will hold their country together and end their civil war. Even the White House acknowledges that there is no American military solution to an Iraqi civil war. Yet still, despite the obvious lack of movement on political reconciliation, we keep hearing that we're making progress in Iraq.
The reality, as explained by your report and supported by the consensus view of our 16 intelligence agencies -- complied jointly in the most recent National Intelligence Estimate -- is that there has been no meaningful progress on meeting the key political benchmarks. In fact, your report concludes that the Iraqis met only one of the eight benchmarks for political progress -- and that was protecting the rights of minorities in Iraq's legislature -- and partially met one other. The Iraqis have not yet agreed on the key issue of amending the constitution and crucial legislation on de-Ba'athification, oil revenue sharing, provincial elections, amnesty and militia disarmament, which has still not been enacted.
The GAO is not alone in these conclusions. Your findings echo last month's National Intelligence Estimate, an independent assessment which concluded that the overall level of violence remains high, the level of political progress has been negligible, and, quote, "The Iraqi government will become more precarious over the next six to 12 months." We can see the unsettling news in Iraqi politics with our own eyes: 15 of the 37 members of the Iraqi cabinet have now withdrawn their support, making it exceedingly difficult to imagine how the national reconciliation efforts of the Shi'ite-dominated government will be improving in the near future -- though we obviously hold out hope that it will.
All summer, supporters of the escalation have urged us to wait until this moment.
Wait until September; give the escalation a chance. Wait until September to hear from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. Well, now it is here. The president has just visited, and we anticipate those reports in the next days. But the result already on the table is, I hate to say it, probably as predictable as it was three or even six months ago, before hundreds of additional Americans have given their lives.
The administration has somehow varnished over its own goals. It seems to be unwilling, chronically, to be able to meet even its own goals. And each time we -- we hear a sort of shift in analysis, with the rationale, "This is what we were trying to do all along. This is what really mattered," as we shift from what had been previously stated as what really mattered. The fact is that mistake after mistake has been met not with a changed policy, but with a changing rationale.
The White House, we know, badly wants our fellow Americans to lose sight, perhaps, of some of the original purposes of the original decisions that we've made. But we here in the Congress need to remember it, as we listen to what is now going to be promised or now assessed, and it has to be measured against those past assessments and past rationales, particularly when we look at the promises that were made from this table here in this room, as well as in the Hart hearing room, as well as in the Dirksen larger room below, all three of them. I can remember the secretary of State and/or other major players promising us that we were right around the corner, moments away from any one of the benchmarks being achieved that still have not been achieved to this date. Just yesterday, the president reiterated the same old line that some U.S. forces may eventually be withdrawn if conditions improve, when it has long been clear that setting a redeployment deadline is the key to, in fact, improving those conditions.
So we reach this new moment of reckoning with the long-awaited Petraeus report, and I hope no one will be surprised that the report will, no doubt, have significant political input, not just military and strategic input. The White House has again and again, I regret to say, avoided the kind of important, plain, unadorned discussion of facts -- facts which are intractable, and it is important to face these facts, as you have today, Mr. Walker, in this testimony -- Controller Walker.
It is also important; I think all our colleagues on this committee want to avoid seeing goalposts moved yet again. That is not what this should be about. So many of us have expressed our concern about the sacrifice being made by American troops, which they're called on to make again and again, contrary to what the facts themselves on the ground are telling us as a matter of policy. We need reports like this one from the GAO to help lay out what is really happening and to help force policymakers in Washington to take responsibility in order to take action. We cannot continue to ask Americans to die for a policy that can't work or that is based on a shifting rationale. And your important testimony today will help us understand whether we're facing that or not.
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SEN. KERRY: Thank you very much, Senator Lugar, and thank you particularly -- I thought those measures that you set forth, which are not necessarily a component of what you get out of these particular benchmarks, are important ones, and ones that we need to evaluate as we think about this today. Comptroller Walker, thank you for being here and we look forward to your testimony.
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SEN. KERRY: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Walker. Now we're very happy to be here -- obviously, this is our job so you don't need to thank us for being here, but we do appreciate the extra effort of all of the folks who've been involved in trying to do this. We'll do seven-minute rounds and hopefully, you know, if people have additional questions, we can hang in and have another round.
Mr. Walker, did you receive the full and timely cooperation of all of the agencies that you needed in order to compile this report?
MR. WALKER: Senator, we received the cooperation we needed to do our job. In some cases it could have been more timely but ultimately we got what we needed to reach our independent professional judgment.
SEN. KERRY: And were the relevant executive agencies also cooperative with you in this effort?
MR. WALKER: Yes, the agencies that we sought information from, which included the ones that I mentioned at the outset of my testimony. We have had issues from time to time with regard to access -- timely access to transitional readiness assessments, the so-called TRAs, which are what are used in order to assess the capability of Iraqi forces. We still have related work going on, but the bottom line is we got what we thought we needed in order to be able to do this job.
SEN. KERRY: Was there any pressure of any kind from any place with respect to any of the conclusions that you drew?
MR. WALKER: I'm not aware of any such pressure. Unfortunately, somebody from the administration leaked the report last Thursday -- Wednesday or Thursday. It appeared in a number of media, both print and electronic, over a few days. When they leaked that they also noted they were going to try to convince us to change some of our ratings, as you can see.
The only thing we really did was we went to a "partially met" on a couple -- one of which I'd made the judgment, frankly, you know, independently of their comments; the other of which they provided us additional information that we did not have previously which caused us to change our judgment, so --
SEN. KERRY: And what were those two?
MR. WALKER: The two were: Providing three trained and ready brigades to support Baghdad operations. They had provided three trained brigades, most of them have a reasonable degree of readiness, but we have some concerns about readiness and also concerns about reliability --
SEN. KERRY: At what time did they provide the three? When were they due?
MR. WALKER: Well, that one -- you know, that information we received in late August. But, candidly, we wanted to decide on our own whether or not readiness was enough, because one can be ready but not potentially reliable. One of the concerns that exists in Iraq -- as you know, there are divided loyalties in some regards. There are, on one hand -- are you loyal to the National Unity Government, or are you loyal potentially to a particular group or sect or individual? And we had concerns in that regard, in addition to concerns that we had about the readiness of certain units.
And then the second one was the safe havens item. Basically, we decided to give a "partially met" there because, with the exception of Sadr City, we felt that tremendous progress has been made. With Sadr City there have been incursions into Sadr City from time to time, there are not restrictions on incursions there but there are no -- there are no security bases in Sadr City and that is an area that one can say is not totally secure by any means.
SEN. KERRY: But it was and is your judgment, is it not, that in fact the infiltration of some of those forces by militia has created a de facto safe haven in certain places?
MR. WALKER: Well, there are two issues, Senator. One issue is whether or not, because of divided loyalties within the Iraqi forces, that has caused a potential diminution in their ability to be supportive of the security operations. The second is whether or not there are certain sections of the city, or sectors of the city, where there could be loyalties to particular militias and where, because of an absence of continuing security presence there, it could be a relative safe haven. And that's what we're seeing.
SEN. KERRY: Well, I agree with Senator Lugar that there are a lot of measurements that are not reflected in this, which may have as much bearing on our ability to be able to get the political reconciliation as these benchmarks. But it's somewhat disconcerting when you read through these benchmarks that those that are "partially met" and/or "met" are frankly pretty light compared -- light in their impact, compared to those that are "completely unmet," which are obviously of much greater significance to any kind of political reconciliation or resolution.
And very specifically, I mean, where you have "met," the ones that are "met" is the political, media, economic, service committees in support of a Baghdad security plan. That's not a particularly complicated, nor frankly even critical, benchmark. The other one that's "met" is creating the Joint Security Stations in neighborhoods across Baghdad, where you have a military force present and you have the Joint -- but doesn't reflect what's happening outside of that security station.
And the third is that the rights of minority political parties in the legislature are protected. So you've got three fairly -- frankly innocuous benchmarks. Whereas the basic benchmarks with respect to the hydrocarbon resources, the de-Ba'athification, the constitutional review, Iraqi commanders independently capable of making decisions to go out to do things, the even-handed enforcement of the law by the Iraqi security forces, reducing the sectarian violence, et cetera -- all of those things which really, in the end, are going to measure whether or not Iraq can come together and end this civil strife -- you have a, you have a "zero" progress.
Help us to understand what you think, in your judgment -- I mean, are you able to conclude, as a consequence of these many reports and long involvement now, what's missing and what is going to be necessary to try to create greater progress with respect to the sectarian struggle?
MR. WALKER: Several comments, Senator. First, as you know, of the 18 benchmarks -- they really cover three areas, political, economic and security.
Clearly, the least progress has been made on the political front and, as you and other members -- Senator Lugar -- mentioned earlier, one of the whole ideas about the surge was to enhance security in order to provide additional breathing room in order to make political progress. We did not attempt to weight these 18 benchmarks. We didn't feel it was appropriate for us to do that. I would, however, say that I think that number nine and number 10 (sic), which we put down as a "partially met," are significant items as they relate to security within Baghdad. And, as you know, the surge was intended to be primarily about trying to create additional security to enable additional -- further political progress with a particular emphasis on Baghdad.
SEN. KERRY: Nine and what?
MR. WALKER: Number nine and number 12.
SEN. KERRY: Twelve.
MR. WALKER: Number nine would be providing three trained and ready brigades to support Baghdad operations, and number 12 would be ensuring that, according to President Bush, Prime Minister Maliki, as I said, the Baghdad security plan will not provide a safe haven for any outlaws, regardless of their sectarian or political affiliation. Now, we found a "partially met" there, rather than a "fully met," for the reasons I articulated.
Last, I would say, is if we said that it was a "not met," Senator, that doesn't mean there's been no progress. It means there hasn't been enough progress for us to be able to say that it's at least partially met. Or it -- it is a criteria that doesn't lend itself to a "partially met." But needless to say, the -- the furthest -- the biggest problem area is in the political area. There's no question about that.
SEN. KERRY: Well, I -- I understand that, and we're going to have to try to sort through this, and I hope today we can establish some kind of lines of our own to understand. Because I think it'd be a shame if we spend the next month quibbling over sort of these tiers of progress, versus what you're establishing as -- as sort of even a "partially met" standard here. But I guess, as a matter of common sense, we're all going to be able to judge whether or not it is sufficient to be able to say that it's moving fast enough to try to resolve the fundamental differences here.
Obviously, I have a lot of follow-ups, but my time's up on the first round, so let me turn to Senator Lugar, and I'll come back.
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MR. WALKER: -- and I think the Congress needs to have a debate about, you know, if we're going to stay -- and obviously we are in some numbers for some period of time -- what are we going to do and what are we going to try to accomplish with the forces that we have there? What's appropriate for us to be doing versus others?
SEN. LUGAR: Important questions and perhaps we'll be able to devise some benchmarks on those -- a new course.
And I thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. KERRY: You drew -- just to follow up -- you drew no conclusions, though, with respect to this nationalist drive itself?
MR. WALKER: We did not. But I think what I would reiterate is what I said before: Arguably, the legislative benchmarks are a proxy as to whether or not the elected representatives of the people want one country or not. They haven't made much progress. That's different from what a referendum might come up with. It's a different issue.
SEN. KERRY: I understand.
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SEN. KERRY: Before I turn to Senator Hagel, let me just comment that there is a clear distinction if you're saying partially met is a standard that is not met, i.e., they are unmet. And you have 11 categories that are not met, then we have a real gap here between whatever the definition is of, quote, "satisfactory progress" and something that is just is not even able to be partially met.
MR. WALKER: Right. If I can, Senator Kerry, let me give you an analogy that I think all of you can probably relate to. You know, this administration has something called the President's Management Agenda. And the President's Management Agenda deals with linking resources, results, information technology, human capital strategy, et cetera. And they rate their -- they rate two things on that management agenda at least twice a year. First, where does each agency stand as of a point in time on achieving the objectives; and then secondly, whether or not they're making satisfactory progress.
In essence, we are doing the first. We're doing: Where do things stand at a point in time? However, we added the partially met, because felt that was appropriate to be fair and balanced and not to have, you know, a stark assessment of either 100 percent there or 0 percent there.
That's not reality, okay? We also provided additional contextual sophistication by talking about the status, so really by definition their ratings are going to look better than ours because A, they're based upon their view of progress, which is inherently more subjective; and secondly, needless to say, they're not independent and we are.
SEN. KERRY: Well, my point is also partly -- and I'll just be very quick -- that there's an unfortunate history here of this administration drawing political lines which have avoided -- which have voided -- not just avoided but have voided any ability to try to find the kind of sensible bipartisan consensus that we might -- to answer your question about what should the role of our troops be, and I'm very -- and very specifically, you know, yesterday I was really angered by what the president said when he was in Iraq when he said that, "These decisions will be based on a calm assessment by our military commanders on the conditions on the ground, not a nervous reaction by Washington politicians to poll results in the media." Let me make it clear that notwithstanding there were some 20 or so plus senators who voted against this initiative. There were many more who -- (audio break) --
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SEN. COLEMAN: But -- you're saying is that you haven't then seen the data. You said you haven't seen the data for August.
MR. WALKER: Correct. We have -- we asked for but did not receive the information through the end of August, but there were discussions that were held that talked in general terms about August, but they haven't given us the data. You're correct, Senator.
SEN. KERRY: (Off mike) -- I'm told that traditionally this is something we ought to get a handle on, that each August of the last year is down. So you have to measure it against the prior August and not just the prior months.
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SEN. KERRY: Thank you, Senator Corker. We'll start a second round.
Controller Walker, what -- let me sort of run through a few basics here. The principal success that has been pointed to by the president and the administration, and particularly underscored by his visit yesterday, is Al Anbar. Now, it is accurate, is it not, that Al Anbar is, number one, principally Sunni?
MR. WALKER: Correct.
SEN. KERRY: Number two, it has been relatively isolated from the rest of Iraq and sort of independent, as it has its own absence (sic) of resources, and it's fairly tribal and tribally managed.
MR. WALKER: Relatively isolated, correct.
SEN. KERRY: And the al Qaeda presence was sufficient there that what it did was exhaust the patience of the Sunni tribal leaders to the point that they decided, "You know what? We'd rather sort of work with the Americans for now to take out al Qaeda, because al Qaeda's our number one problem." Is that fair?
MR. WALKER: Well, I think that's something that has to be analyzed. I mean, you know, why -- they did change; there's no question, and the conditions are different in -- in Al Anbar province today. And while they're -- they're somewhat separate, it did serve as a conduit for al Qaeda to be able to come in and out of Baghdad, so I think we have to recognize that. But the question is why did they change, and is that temporary? Is that longer term? And how much of that is transferable to Baghdad and other areas of the country that are also -- (inaudible)?
SEN. KERRY: Well, in the accounts that I've read, even from some of our own troops working with these folks now, is that they're pleased that they took on this cooperative attitude. But the attitude basically happened because their sons and daughters were being killed and raped and people in the cities were being, in their communities, were being attacked and they got fed up with it. And then --
MR. WALKER: Some believe that -- some believe that they changed because al Qaeda overreached.
SEN. KERRY: Correct.
MR. WALKER: Now, I'm not saying that's true.
SEN. KERRY: So you haven't made a judgment as to -- (inaudible).
MR. WALKER: No, we haven't made a judgment. We haven't made an independent judgment on it.
SEN. KERRY: Would that-- would you make a judgment today that it is possible that if they in fact did that, and their interests were otherwise served because of the absence of Shi'a reconciliation, that they'd begin to decide, well, we're going back into insurgency mode and do what we have to do to strike out for our own independence?
MR. WALKER: I think they would look to see progress on the political front to make sure that their own interests are protected. So in the short term, clearly you can make a decision as to what makes sense from a tactical standpoint, but progress has to be made on the strategic front with regard to political in order to make a judgment on what your position's going to be, longer term.
SEN. KERRY: Couldn't agree more. And the bottom line is that that judgment thus far in most of Iraq is that they have not made the decision to either join up or become part of the team because there is still a sense of, number one, the sectarianism within the militias which are vying for power and, number two, the fundamental schism between Shi'a and Sunni. That's unresolved.
MR. WALKER: It's unresolved.
SEN. KERRY: And what -- did you draw a conclusion as to what it will take? Is there any absent quotient that you can actually put your finger on that says, you know, this will make a difference in that reconciliation, in your judgment, after all that you've been through here?
MR. WALKER: I think unless and until the elected representatives of the people are willing to make the compromises necessary and pass the legislation and publicly support it -- I mean that's -- you know, I know that's not easy to do, because we have our own differences in this country.
SEN. KERRY: But that is the fundamental, isn't it?
MR. WALKER: I think that's probably the fundamental issue.
SEN. KERRY: And is there anything that any troop on the ground can do to make that happen?
MR. WALKER: To the extent that one can provide additional stability and security in order to be able to -- for those elected officials to feel more comfortable in making those compromises, theoretically yes. But you're not going to solve the problem militarily.
SEN. KERRY: But when you say, "theoretically yes", isn't that exactly what the surge set out to do?
MR. WALKER: And the question is, how much progress has it made and where has it made progress and to what extent has that progress --
SEN. KERRY: And you've just reported that there's precious little progress and they haven't made almost any significant progress politically. The very thing the surge was supposed -- look, I hope the surge works. If it works, terrific. But the bottom line here is you've got to have a political reconciliation and there is nothing to indicate that they are prepared to embrace that political reconciliation. Indeed, there's the contrary, because the cabinet ministers are walking away, the legislature isn't meeting, the committees aren't doing their work and you yourself have said the government is dysfunctional. So what's the presence of American troops on the frontline of going out into these communities and finding IEDs the hard way -- what's that going to do?
MR. WALKER: I think one of the debates that you need to have is, is it a proper role for U.S. troops to be doing that? And if it's decided that U.S. troops aren't going to play that frontline role, and they're going to focus on the things that Senator Coleman talked about before that we are doing elsewhere -- and arguably should continue to do elsewhere -- then what is the likely impact of that going to be on the ability to achieve political progress? Because ultimately, you've got to achieve that political progress. If you don't achieve that political progress you're not going to have a unified Iraq.
SEN. KERRY: Were you able to determine, through the analysis that you and your folks made, what you think the -- I mean, is the stumbling block here just, you know, 1,300 years of history going back to the slaughter of Hussein in the desert and the fundamental differences between Shi'a and Sunni? Have we let something out of Pandora's Box that can't be put back in? Or is there some equation that you've been able to see that in fact could resolve those differences?
MR. WALKER: Well, frankly, I do think that there are a number of the issues that relate to the benchmarks that are relevant to whether or not one can achieve a stable, unified and reasonably effective government. I mean, one of the issues that we've talked about is the de-Ba'athification. Some people believe that there was such a tough line taken on that, that people with competency were excluded from the ability to be able to help achieve a functioning government, if you will.
So you know, again, I come back to the area where there's been the least progress is on the political front. As of this point in time, it's clearly been unacceptable progress. I don't know anybody who's said that it has been acceptable. The question is, is that likely to change in the near future? And what, if anything, can our troops do in order to change it?
SEN. KERRY: Well, I think for many of us that question has probably been answered, but we're certainly open to being proven otherwise, although I don't see the evidence of it. But the bottom line is, you've got more refugees, you've more people leaving their homes. I understand the numbers of people leaving their homes has doubled in the last months. I understand that -- I mean, the middle class is effectively no longer in Iraq. It's in Jordan. It's in Syria and other places.
MR. WALKER: There has been a brain flight. There's no question about that.
SEN. KERRY: Capital flight.
MR. WALKER: Yes. And the other thing you have to look at is on sectarian violence is to what extent has the country changed such that where you used to have more multiple-sect geographic areas that that is changing such that you don't have that. I mean, that could be one reason why you could have a trend in sectarian violence.
SEN. KERRY: Some people have even dared to suggest -- though they don't talk about it very much publicly -- that this is a civil struggle that may have to be fought and there's nothing we can do to prevent it. And until there's an exhaustion in that bloodletting, nothing will resolve. What's your comment?
MR. WALKER: I don't think it's appropriate for me to comment on that.
SEN. KERRY: Okay.
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MR. WALKER: A couple things off the top of my head would be for them to feel comfortable that they have a meaningful role in the government. Meaningful -- obviously it's not going to be what it was in the past, when they ruled Iraq in a totalitarian manner under Saddam Hussein. Secondly that they feel that there are meaningful minority rights, of which there has been progress made, considerable progress then there. Thirdly that there be some equitable distribution of the nation's resources, the nation's resources being primarily energy-related resources. So those would be some things off the top of my head.
SEN. CASEY: Thank you.
SEN. KERRY: Let me just follow up on that a minute. Do you really believe -- I mean, to what degree do you think in the Sunni minority there is a presence that is determined to return to power, that believes that they were born into the manor and that it's their job to run Iraq; they've always run it; they're the ones who've run it best and they're going to get it back?
MR. WALKER: You're not going to satisfy those people and --
SEN. KERRY: What percentage do you think they are? Is there any way to determine? Do you get any sense of --
MR. WALKER: Senator, I don't have a basis using GAO-accepted methodology to give you a percentage there, but I --
SEN. KERRY: But you didn't pick that up in any kind of discussions. Nobody said, well, it's X -- you know, it's a minority of X or Y.
MR. WALKER: There's some additional information in the classified report that we issued on this that might be helpful to you in that regard.
It is. It is pushed, I'm sorry.
SEN. KERRY: With respect to the safe havens, Prime Minister Maliki himself assured the people of Iraq and the United States that there would be no safe havens in Iraq for insurgents and terrorists. Your report obviously concludes that that goal has only been partially met. And so the question is, why in your judgment, considering the strength of the Shi'a, particularly given Muqtada al-Sadr's presence, et cetera, why has his haven particularly been sort of left? You know, I think there's only one entry there or something that's blocked, if I recall.
MR. WALKER: The primary reason we gave that a "partially met" was because of Sadr City, where we don't have -- there are not any security operations that are manned on a continual basis within Sadr City.
SEN. KERRY: And what's the game in here? What's being played out here? What does that represent -- fear of Muqtada al-Sadr, uncertainty, a deal, a back-door deal?
MR. WALKER: That's a Shi'a stronghold where there is significant militia activity. And what is different -- what is different is there have not been any preclusions of U.S. forces or Iraqi security forces conducting operations there. And in fact, a number of operations have been conducted in Sadr City. However, when you look at, in the material that we've provided and also supplemented in the classified report, where you look at where our -- where the joint security centers are and other factors, it's obviously not the same as the balance of Baghdad. And that's why we rated it as partially met.
SEN. KERRY: I don't know if it was Senator Coleman or Senator Lugar who made the point about Prime Minister Maliki sort of seeing the handwriting on the wall here in the long run.
But the question is, do you make any conclusion with respect to his intentions here, measured against -- I think it was Senator (Lugar ?) who was saying he may not be incompetent; it may be that he just has a different vision of where it's coming out.
And given their majority status given to them at the ballot box now, one that was denied them for centuries, they have something they don't intend to give up.
And so the shorthand is that some people conclude that Maliki is essentially determined to represent the Shi'a interests ahead of Iraqi interests and that he is a Shi'a prime minister and not a prime minister for all of Iraq.
MR. WALKER: I wouldn't want to speculate as to what Prime Minister Maliki is thinking and what his intentions are --
SEN. KERRY: But do you see actions that in fact reinforce that conclusion? The lack of action, the lack of progress --
MR. WALKER: What I see -- yeah. What I see more than anything else is the failure to achieve key political progress. He is obviously the leader as prime minister of Iraq, but as you know, there are a lot of power players in Iraq, and even in long-established democracies, including ours, sometimes it's difficult for the leader to be able to make things happen as quickly as one might like, because of different political and other forces.
But you know, it would just be mere speculation for me to say that he has an agenda. It's a very difficult situation --
SEN. KERRY: Well, the majority of the forces thus far trained are Shi'a, and as long as the United States is training and supplying Shi'a, it's to Shi'a advantage to grow stronger and stronger, and in terms -- in the long run -- it's my understanding there's also significant Iranian Revolutionary Guard in the southern part, also now training people.
So I can certainly see a long-term strategy here that doesn't play to reconciliation at all. And we just spend a lot of dollars and a lot of lives and in fact play into the longer strategy, which --
MR. WALKER: Well, the Shi'a are the majority, and they have a significant majority.
SEN. KERRY: But you don't -- you didn't analyze -- I mean, that is not part of your analysis in any way.
MR. WALKER: No. No, Senator, it is not.
SEN. KERRY: You simply look at the benchmarks per se. We can draw our conclusions from those benchmarks.
MR. WALKER: That's correct, Senator. We're just trying to provide information consistent with the statutory mandate that hopefully --
SEN. KERRY: And the most important conclusion that you've drawn is that thus far, at least, the surge and the purpose of it, which was to provide breathing space for political reconciliation, has failed. It has not provided the reconciliation in the large measure and certainly on any of the important -- most important benchmarks.
MR. WALKER: The additional security that it's achieved has not resulted in significant political progress. Political progress is essential in order to achieve, you know, the stated ultimate objectives for Iraq.
SEN. KERRY: Senator Coleman or anybody else here --
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SEN. KERRY: I want to respond to something Senator Coleman said, but let me just say first of all, thank you, Controller Walker, for this analysis. Here's what I think is important about it -- and people can accept or reject it -- but when the administration says "satisfactory progress," that is an entirely, wholly subjective statement. And it's a subjective statement that has -- is based on their own standard, an undeclared standard measured against whatever their sense of progress is or isn't.
It also has to be measured against all of their prior judgments and all of their prior statements about progress and what would be expected -- statements from last throes of the insurgency to mission accomplished and a host of other things. So I think we have a right to demand a more accountant-based analysis, which you've given us, and I accept and I think it's appropriate that you've found this middle ground to say you don't want to be completely over here or over here, when it doesn't quite reflect something that may be happening, so you've said "partially." But what has to be underscored is there are only a couple of categories that get "partially." Most of them are in the -- just "incomplete." They haven't been -- they're nowhere down the road to progress, and that is critical when measuring what our troops are being put at risk for, versus what is achievable.
In the absence of this kind of political reconciliation, our troops are being thrown out there in the worst way, because they can't create the dynamic of that political reconciliation; only the political leadership can do that. And right now, a lot of us have trouble seeing what the dynamic is within that political leadership that is going to see them take the risks necessary to do it. We all hope they will, but we don't see what -- what it is.
But when Senator Coleman, you know, says on the one side, "We need to get the politics out of this," and we all agree we do, but then says, you know, "We can't just leave this to al Qaeda," I don't know anybody who's proposed leaving it to al Qaeda. Let's not debate red herrings and straw men here. That's a straw man debate. In the proposal that I drafted and proposed that we voted on a year ago and again a couple times this last year, we specifically said the president has the discretion to leave what troops are necessary to chase al Qaeda. So nobody has talked about leaving Iraq to al Qaeda.
Secondly, we also said you've got to complete the job of training the Iraqi forces so they can stand up for themselves and so that our interests in the region can be met. So the real debate, and here I agree with Senator Coleman, is what's the role of our troops there? I am convinced, as I have been for some period of time, it is not to go chasing around the streets acting as police officers and in a obvious military role as occupiers. You know, this is something Iraqis have got to (release these ?) more rapidly. And we do have a test case, as Senator Lugar said. It has been presented to us by the British, because they have pulled back into a sort of enclave status, which some of us have suggested may have been the appropriate status some time ago in Iraq, and we'll see what happens with the militia in that region and we'll see what happens, particularly since it's a predominantly Shi'a region, and it will be interesting to see how that resolves.
So there's a lot on the table here, but I want to debate the real debate, which is not who in America wants to fight al Qaeda. Everybody does, and we're all determined to win that battle, and I'm convinced we can and will. And we will largely because in the end we'll work out the kinds of accommodations we did with tribal leaders in Anbar, who will see a different interest. While it may not be their ultimate interest, it is their immediate interest, and we will be able to satisfy those immediate interests. The larger question is what we're going to do about the bigger picture in the region, and that really involves our role.
And also, another thing Senator Lugar mentioned, again. For four years I've been talking about trying to put together a standing regional conference, and here is Senator Lugar, one of the most learned and experienced people on this committee and in the Senate on these issues, who is lamenting the absence of that kind of standing diplomatic effort where you're talking to people not once every fly-by few months, or at some standing meeting of the region or a special meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh where people come and then they go, but there is a constant process working towards the resolution of the issues of that region. And I've talked to enough leaders in the region, all of whom have seconded the need for that kind of ongoing effort, as did previously Kofi Annan at the United Nations and now Secretary General Moon. So I think we should take a leadership role in that regard and, hopefully, this committee can play a role in getting us there.
So thank you, Mr. Walker, for being here today. It's a good report. I think it will be an important benchmark. It's not going to answer all the questions, but it certainly is going to help us understand where we are with respect to the benchmarks, which is what we wanted to know. And I think we'll have a better understanding of where those benchmarks stand with respect to the larger issues that need to be resolved here. So we thank you for the work. We thank your staff, and we hope you'll convey to them our appreciation for the good work here, and we look forward to continuing our relationship. Thank you, sir.
We stand adjourned.
MR. WALKER: Thank you, Senator.
SEN. KERRY: (Strikes gavel.)