Rebuilding Iraq: More Comprehensive National Strategy Needed to Help Achieve U.S. Goals

GAO-06-788 Published: Jul 11, 2006. Publicly Released: Jul 11, 2006.
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According to the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq (NSVI) issued by the National Security Council (NSC), prevailing in Iraq is a vital U.S. interest because it will help win the war on terror and make America safer, stronger, and more certain of its future. This report (1) assesses the evolving U.S. national strategy for Iraq and (2) evaluates whether the NSVI and its supporting documents address the desirable characteristics of an effective national strategy developed by GAO in previous work. In this report, the NSVI and supporting documents are collectively referred to as the U.S. strategy for Iraq.

The November 2005 National Strategy for Victory in Iraq and supporting documents incorporate the same desired end-state for U.S. stabilization and reconstruction operations that were first established by the coalition in 2003: a peaceful, united, stable, and secure Iraq, well integrated into the international community, and a full partner in the global war on terrorism. However, it is unclear how the United States will achieve its desired end-state in Iraq given the significant changes in the assumptions underlying the U.S. strategy. The original plan assumed a permissive security environment. However, an increasingly lethal insurgency undermined the development of effective Iraqi government institutions and delayed plans for an early transfer of security responsibilities to the Iraqis. The plan also assumed that U.S. reconstruction funds would help restore Iraq's essential services to prewar levels, but Iraq's capacity to maintain, sustain, and manage its rebuilt infrastructure is still being developed. Finally, the plan assumed that the Iraqi government and the international community would help finance Iraq's development needs, but Iraq has limited resources to contribute to its own reconstruction, and Iraq's estimated future needs vastly exceed what has been offered by the international community to date. The NSVI is an improvement over previous planning efforts. However, the NSVI and its supporting documents are incomplete because they do not fully address all the desirable characteristics of an effective national strategy. On one hand, the strategy's purpose and scope is clear because it identifies U.S. involvement in Iraq as a vital national interest and central front in the war on terror. The strategy also generally addresses the threats and risks facing the coalition forces and provides a comprehensive description of the desired U.S. political, security, and economic objectives in Iraq. On the other hand, the strategy falls short in three key areas. First, it only partially identifies the current and future costs of U.S. involvement in Iraq, including the costs of maintaining U.S. military operations, building Iraqi government capacity at the provincial and national level, and rebuilding critical infrastructure. Second, it only partially identifies which U.S. agencies implement key aspects of the strategy or resolve conflicts among the many implementing agencies. Third, it neither fully addresses how U.S. goals and objectives will be integrated with those of the Iraqi government and the international community, nor does it detail the Iraqi government's anticipated contribution to its future security and reconstruction needs. In addition, the elements of the strategy are dispersed among the NSVI and seven supporting documents, further limiting its usefulness as a planning and oversight tool.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
National Security Council To help improve the strategy's effectiveness as a planning tool and to improve its usefulness to Congress, the National Security Council should, in conjunction with the Department of Defense and the Department of State, complete the strategy by addressing all six characteristics of an effective national strategy in a single document. In particular, the revised strategy should address the current costs and future military and civilian resources needed to implement the strategy, clarify the roles and responsibilities of all U.S. government agencies involved in reconstruction and stabilization efforts, and detail potential Iraqi and international contributions to future military and reconstruction needs.
Closed – Implemented
Following the issuance of our report, the National Security Council, Departments of State and Defense, and other agencies added specific information to a classified progress matrix for the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq. The specific information includes elements we recommended, such as costs and resources needed to implement the strategy; identification of specific agencies and offices with concrete taskings to implement the strategy; and potential contributions from the Iraqi governments and international community.

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