Iraq and benchmarks, a mixed assessment

A breakdown of the progress and shortcomings of the Iraqi government in the Initial Benchmark Assessment Report to Congress

Iraq. Click map to view.

The Initial Benchmark Assessment Report, the interim report prior to the September assessment of the Iraqi government’s progress on the security and political fronts, was released today. The report assesses 18 benchmarks and rates them as satisfactory or unsatisfactory. The report was mixed, with the Iraqi government receiving satisfactory marks on seven benchmarks, unsatisfactory marks on another eight, one was split down the middle, while two of the benchmarks were considered premature to implement in light of the security situation. [Download the full report].

Not surprisingly, the Iraqi government was more successful in the security sphere than the political sphere. The issues of sectarianism and favoritism has hindered progress on both the political and security fronts. Divisiveness on contentious political issues such as the oil law, de-Baathification, and reconciliation have set back political progress. The issue of reconciliation may best be dealt with at the local levels, according to the authors of the report. “Our strategy envisions ‘bottom-up’ reconciliation to be as important, if not more important, than top-down reconciliation. Bottom-up reconciliation involves working at the local and provincial level, seeking local political accommodations and getting more Iraqis to invest in the future of a united and democratic Iraq.”

The Iraqi Security Forces have made “slow progress.” The report is clear that U.S. assistance is vital to continue progress. Sectarian violence inside Baghdad has been reduced as the security forces have pushed into the neighborhoods and are actively targeting both al Qaeda and Mahdi Army cells – the “accelerants” of the violence. Violence is expected to increase as “AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq] will attempt to increase its tempo of attacks as September approaches — in an effort to influence U.S. domestic opinion about sustained U.S. engagement in Iraq.”

The 18 benchmarks are listed below, along with their marks and a brief description on the status of each benchmark.

(i) Forming a Constitutional Review Committee and then completing the constitutional review.

Satisfactory. The committee has been formed and progress is being made to completing the review process.

(ii) Enacting and implementing legislation on de-Ba’athification reform.

Unsatisfactory. “This is among the most divisive political issues for Iraq, and compromise will be extremely difficult,” the report noted. The animosity over the Baath Party’s decades of oppression runs deep, and there is little stomach in the Shia and Sunni communities to push for de-Ba’athification reform while the insurgency is in full swing.

(iii) Enacting and implementing legislation to ensure the equitable distribution of hydrocarbon resources to the people of Iraq without regard to the sect or ethnicity of recipients, and enacting and implementing legislation to ensure that the energy resources of Iraq benefit Sunni Arabs, Shi’a Arabs, Kurds, and other Iraqi citizens in an equitable manner.

Unsatisfactory. While the process has moved forward and the Shia and Kurdish parties have agreed on legislation, the Sunni parties have boycotted the vote. This benchmark missed a May 31 deadline.

(iv) Enacting and implementing legislation on procedures to form semi-autonomous regions.

Satisfactory. The law has been passed and “this potentially contentious issue has not been a source of discord.”

(v) Enacting and implementing legislation establishing an Independent High Electoral Commission, provincial elections law, provincial council authorities, and a date for provincial elections.

Unsatisfactory. Three of the four goals of the benchmark received an unsatisfactory rating. The commission has been set up, but the provincial elections law has not been passed, provincial council authorities have not been established, and a date for provincial elections has not been set. Prime Minister Maliki recently announced provincial elections would be held by the end f the year, however.

(vi) Enacting and implementing legislation addressing amnesty.

Neutral. “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.”

(vii) Enacting and implementing legislation establishing a strong militia disarmament program to ensure that such security forces are accountable only to the central government and loyal to the constitution of Iraq.

Neutral. “The prerequisites for a successful militia disarmament program are not present. In fact, international experts, including the U.N., have expressed reservations to advancing this proposal at the present time.”

(viii) Establishing supporting political, media, economic, and services committees in support of the Baghdad Security Plan.

Satisfactory. “The establishment of the Executive Steering Committee and related subcommittees meets the requirement of the benchmark.”

(ix) Providing three trained and ready Iraqi brigades to support Baghdad operations.

Satisfactory. The Iraqi Army had some difficulty in providing the three brigades, but adapted. The manning of the units remains a concern but the levels are considered adequate and the Ministry of Defense is working to increase the unit strength.

(x) 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.

Unsatisfactory. This is a mixed assessment, as the authority has been given to hunt both Sunni and Shia extremist groups, but “there remains a negative political influence at a variety of levels with evidence of sectarian behavior.”

(xi) Ensuring that Iraqi Security Forces are providing even-handed enforcement of the law.

Unsatisfactory. “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.”

(xii) Ensuring that, as Prime Minister Maliki was quoted by President Bush as saying, “the Baghdad Security Plan will not provide a safe haven for any outlaws, regardless of [their] sectarian or political affiliation.”

Satisfactory. “United States commanders report overall satisfaction with their ability to target any and all extremist groups,” the reports stated, however “there remains one individual that Prime Minister Maliki has made the decision to delay targeting.” Tribal and civilian cooperation is a positive indicator of success.

(xiii) Reducing the level of sectarian violence in Iraq and eliminating militia control of local security.

The benchmark is split, as “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.”

(xiv) Establishing all of the planned joint security stations in neighborhoods across Baghdad.

Satisfactory. “As of June 16, Multinational Division-Baghdad reports 32 JSSs have achieved initial operational capability and 36 COPs have achieved initial or full operational capability. This benchmark is on track for completion at the required time.”

(xv) Increasing the number of Iraqi Security Forces units capable of operating independently.

Unsatisfactory. Sectarian issues again are assessed as holding the Iraqi Security Forces back. Although not noted in the report, the creation of new Iraqi divisions will prevent units from operating independently as the experienced cadres from existing units are culled to seed the new units.

(xvi) Ensuring that the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature are protected.

Satisfactory. There were no caveats to this benchmark, this is viewed as a complete success.

(xvii) Allocating and spending $10 billion in Iraqi revenues for reconstruction projects, including delivery of essential services, on an equitable basis.

Satisfactory. The government will have trouble spending all $10 Billion, however.

(xviii) Ensuring that Iraq’s political authorities are not undermining or making false accusations against members of the ISF.

Unsatisfactory. “Accusations that undermine the independence and non-sectarianism of the ISF occur and are not adequately addressed by the Government of Iraq. The effect is at times to deny the ISF the services of qualified officers or to discourage them from operating in a professional non-sectarian manner.”

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

Are you a dedicated reader of FDD's Long War Journal? Has our research benefitted you or your team over the years? Support our independent reporting and analysis today by considering a one-time or monthly donation. Thanks for reading! You can make a tax-deductible donation here.




Islamic state



Al shabaab

Boko Haram