The top U.S. military commanders in Baghdad protested yesterday after the release of a General Accounting Office report that said that Iraq had failed to meet all but two of nine security benchmarks. One military official called the report “factually incorrect,” especially in its claim that sectarian violence had grown worse.

Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, said the next few months would determine whether the U.S. could start withdrawing soldiers without sacrificing security gains from this year’s troop buildup. President Bush raised the possibility during a surprise visit Monday to a remote desert air base in the Sunni province of Anbar, where cooperation from Iraqi Sunnis has helped reclaim turf once thought lost to foreign insurgents.

The GAO report indeed “paints a dark view of progress and prospects in Iraq,” said Frederick Kagan in The Daily Standard. But the assessment is largely meaningless. The GAO considered whether the Iraqi government had met benchmarks, but it failed “to take adequate notice of the Anbar Awakening and the general movement within the Sunni Arab community against Al Qaeda In Iraq and toward the Coalition.”

“The spin on Anbar is success and sectarian reconciliation,” said William Arkin in The Washington Post (free registration required). But Iraqis see it differently. Consider the emphasis on Sunni cooperation alongside Washington’s recent criticism of the government of Iraqi’s Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, and it looks like the Sunnis—once “Saddam’s elite and sustenance”—are poised to return to power “with American connivance.”

President Bush is “proposing a new gauge” for success in Iraq yet again, said David Sanger in The New York Times (free registration required). “By meeting with tribal leaders who just a year ago were considered the enemy,” Bush is suggesting that forging alliances in places like Anbar is more important than getting lawmakers in Baghdad to pass laws that will help bring warring sects together. It remains to be seen whether the new strategy will buy Bush time with an increasingly impatient Congress.