Iraq flunks US test

The fate of US involvement in Iraq is on the line in a relentless program of hearings and reports this week and next, certain to refuel the political row over the war.

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War commander General David Petraeus will step to the microphone next week for perhaps the most eagerly awaited congressional testimony for years, with lawmakers hoping for a blunt assessment of the state of the war.

US ambassador to Baghdad Ryan Crocker, who like General Petraeus is admired across political lines in the bitter atmosphere fostered by the unpopular war, will also give testimony.

Mr Bush and the White House meanwhile are preparing a report on the strategy to surge an extra 28,500 troops into Iraq, expected to ask for more time for the effort, that they are compelled by law to produce by September 15.

Though most decisions by Republicans and anti-war Democrats on the next step in the war debate will likely wait until then, the spotlight is already shining on the beleaguered Iraqi government.

Damning report

A report by the independent Government Accountablility Office found that the Iraqi government had failed to meet 11 out of 18 benchmarks for security and political progress set by the US Congress.

GAO chief, Comptroller General David Walker told the first of a set of war hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations committee, that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's administration was "dysfunctional."

General Walker was set to endure new scrutiny, with hearings before the Democratic-controlled Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees on the House of Representatives.

On Thursday, the focus turns to the status of the US bid to train Iraqi armed forces to fill the security vacuum, considered crucial to US hopes of withdrawing troops from Iraq.

Retired Marine General James Jones will deliver a report to Senate and House Armed Services Committees in separate hearings on the latest status of the effort.

On the same day, the Senate's Select Intelligence Committee will hold a classified meeting on the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, produced by US spy agencies.

Petraeus and Crocker double-act

On Monday, September 10, according to advance House and Senate schedules released by the Democratic leadership and confirmed by the White House, General Petraeus and Mr Crocker will appear together at a joint meeting of the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees.

The next day, on the politically sensitive sixth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the two key players will meet the Senate's Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees in separate hearings.

On September 12, a tentative schedule has Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace in the spotlight before the Senate Armed Services Committee, ending a frenzied two weeks of Iraq war scrutiny.

Attention is then likely to shift to the full chambers of the House of Representatives and Senate, as Democrats have to make decisions on war funding, and Republicans decide whether to continue backing Bush.