WASHINGTON - The Bush administration routinely has underreported the level of violence in Iraq in order to disguise its policy failings, the Iraq Study Group report said Wednesday.
The bipartisan group called on the Pentagon and the director of the U.S. intelligence community to immediately institute a new reporting system that provides "a more accurate picture of events on the ground."
The finding bolsters allegations by Democratic lawmakers and other critics that the Bush administration has withheld or misconstrued intelligence that conflicted with its Iraq policy while promoting data and claims that supported its positions.
Those allegations date back to President Bush's contention before the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion that Saddam Hussein was hiding illegal nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs. His claim proved to be unfounded.
Bush and his top officials have denied the allegations and accused the news media of exaggerating the violence between Iraqi Shiite and Sunni Muslims, minority Kurds and other groups.
The office of National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, who oversees all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, declined comment, saying it was studying the report.
On page 94 of its report, the Iraq Study Group found that there had been "significant under-reporting of the violence in Iraq." The reason, the group said, was because the tracking system was designed in a way that minimized the deaths of Iraqis.
"The standard for recording attacks acts a filter to keep events out of reports and databases," the report said. "A murder of an Iraqi is not necessarily counted as an attack. If we cannot determine the source of a sectarian attack, that assault does not make it into the database. A roadside bomb or a rocket or mortar attack that doesn't hurt U.S. personnel doesn't count."
"Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals," the report continued.
The finding confirmed a Sept. 8 McClatchy Newspapers report that U.S. officials excluded scores of people killed in car bombings and mortar attacks from tabulations measuring the results of a drive to reduce violence in Baghdad.
By excluding that data, U.S. officials were able to boast that deaths from sectarian violence in the Iraqi capital had declined by more than 52 percent between July and August, McClatchy newspapers reported.
The ISG report said that U.S. officials reported 93 attacks or significant acts of violence on one day in July. "Yet a careful review of the reports for that single day brought to light more than 1,100 acts of violence," it said.
The panel cited other problems with intelligence that it said have hampered U.S. policymakers' comprehension of the Sunni insurgency or the role being played by Shiite militias and death squads.
U.S. officials have "been able to acquire good and sometimes superb tactical intelligence" on al-Qaida in Iraq, and there has been an improvement in the collection of information from human sources, it said.
But the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies have failed to invest enough personnel and funds into understanding "the political and military threat to American men and women in the armed forces," the report continued.
The panel also noted a shortage of proficient Arabic speakers, a problem that the administration and intelligence officials have been urged to correct since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
© 2006 McClatchy Washington Bureau and wire service sources