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Published: 7:44AM Wednesday September 05, 2007 Source: Reuters

Violence is high in Iraq, with scant political progress and mixed results on security, a Congressional report says, a day after President George Bush visited Anbar province and struck an upbeat tone.

The independent Government Accountability Office (GAO) said Iraq had failed to meet 11 of 18 political and military goals set by Congress last May.

Iraq met three benchmarks and partially met another four, it said.

"Violence remains high, the number of Iraqi security forces capable of conducting independent operations has declined and militias are not disarmed," the GAO report said - despite Bush's addition of 30,000 United States troops to Iraq this year.

"It is unclear whether sectarian violence in Iraq has decreased," David Walker, head of the GAO, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The Iraqi government got partial credit for one security goal by providing three brigades to support Baghdad operations, but some of those were of limited effectiveness, Walker said.

Baghdad had not met a number of political goals either, the GAO said.

"Of particular concern is the lack of progress on de-Ba'athification legislation that could promote greater Sunni participation in the national government and comprehensive hydrocarbon legislation that would distribute Iraq's vast oil wealth," the GAO said.

Laws on amnesty, provincial elections and constitutional review also had not been passed.

Bush made an unannounced visit to Iraq on Monday just before Congress returned from its summer recess with Democrats prepared to renew the debate over the unpopular war.

With three reports ordered by Congress coming out in the next few weeks, Bush pointed to what he called security successes in Anbar province and raised the prospect of fewer US forces if gains continued.

Many defence experts say the additional US troops will have to begin leaving Iraq by spring anyway unless the Bush administration extends their tours of duty over 15 months.

Retired Marine General James Jones, head of an independent commission set up by Congress, will report on Iraq security forces later this week.

The White House will submit its own assessment by September 15, after testimony to Congress next week by US Iraq commander General David Petraeus and the US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker.

The White House tried to play down the negative GAO findings. "The GAO report takes a fairly static view of progress in Iraq," spokesman Tony Fratto said.

"It will be more useful to look forward to the testimony of Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus next week, as well as the president's report, for a more thorough picture of the current status in Iraq and recommendations for the future," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat who wants US troops out of Iraq, said Bush's strategy had failed.

"According to the president, when he set forth his escalation policy the purpose of the troop increase was to give the Iraqis space and safety ... to build a sustainable government to provide for their own security. None of this has happened," Reid said on the Senate floor.

Reid hopes that Republicans who have expressed doubts about Iraq recently will join Democrats in bipartisan proposals to change course.

Virginia Republican Senator John Warner said last month Bush should start withdrawing some troops by Christmas.

"Even President Bush understands that the current surge will not last forever," Indiana Republican Senator Richard Lugar said on Tuesday.

Petraeus and Crocker are expected to emphasize improvements in areas such as Anbar - a former insurgent stronghold where Sunni leaders now work with US forces against al Qaeda militants - and ask for more time for the strategy to work.

There are 160,000 troops currently in Iraq. Since the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003, over 3,700 US forces and tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed.