US Auditor Queries Military Iraq Casualty Figures

Agence France-Presse

Friday 07 September 2007

Washington - An independent US government auditor on Friday cast doubt on US military statistics expected to show a huge dip in sectarian violence in Iraq under the current troop surge strategy.

Comptroller General David Walker said there was a "significant difference" of approach between the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which he heads, and Pentagon evaluations of violence in Iraq.

"The primary difference between us and the military is whether or not violence has been reduced with regard to sectarian violence," Walker told the Senate Armed Services committee.

A GAO report published this week on 18 benchmarks for progress for the Iraqi government set down in law by Congress, found that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's administration had failed to reach targets for cutting violence.

"It is unclear whether sectarian violence in Iraq has decreased - a key security benchmark," the report said, pointing to the difficulty in judging whether a killing was sectarian or criminal in nature.

In long-awaited testimony on Monday to Congress on the progress of the surge, Walker said war commander General David Petraeus will cite a large decrease in sectarian violence.

"I think you need to ask him how he defines sectarian violence," Walker told senators.

"The other thing you have to look at is if it's sustainable."

Some reports say Petraeus will argue that sectarian violence in Iraq has fallen by up to 75 percent under the surge.

"We could not get comfortable with (the military's) methodology for determining what's sectarian versus nonsectarian violence," Walker told senators.

"You know, it's extremely difficult to know who did it, what their intent was."

Walker was unable to go into further details, as the rest of the GAO's conclusions in the report on sectarian violence have been declared secret by the Pentagon, and urged senators to read the classified version of the study.

Democratic Senator Jack Reed asked why such vital information to assessing the state of US policy in Iraq was such a closely guarded secret.

"This may seem like a dumb question - why is this classified? I mean, who are we trying to keep this information from: the American people?" Reed said.

Democratic committee chairman Carl Levin meanwhile said he would make a request by the end of Friday for relevant portions of the report to be declassified, so senators could discuss them in a public setting.