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Troops Put In a Good Word to Bush About Iraq

Capt. Stephen N. Pratt tapped to respond to Bush's inquiry about the capability of Iraqi forces. "It was impressive to me," Pratt said, "to see the cooperation and the communication that took place among the Iraqi forces. Along with the coalition's backing them, we'll have a very successful and effective referendum vote."

Master Sgt. Corine Lombardo told Bush the partnership should allow Iraqis to take over a large number of operations within a month.

"Since we began our partnership, they have improved greatly, and they continue to develop and grow into sustainable forces," Lombardo said. "Over the next month, we anticipate seeing at least one-third of those Iraqi forces conducting independent operations."

Offering the Defense Department's own appraisal, Pentagon officials presented a 43-page unclassified report under a congressional requirement for quarterly updates on the situation in Iraq. Compared with the first report, in July, Pentagon officials broke down more specifically how well the Iraqi security forces are doing, with 200,000 troops trained and 88 Army battalions in the fight. They are still a long way from controlling the country's security, officials acknowledged.

After a day of White House damage control, Pentagon spokesman Lawrence T. Di Rita put out a statement last night apologizing for "any perception that [the soldiers] were told what to say" at the event. "It is not the case," he said. Di Rita said technological challenges prompted government officials to advise the soldiers what questions they would be asked "solely to help the troops feel at ease during an obviously unique experience." He said the soldiers decided who would answer.

Staff writer Josh White contributed to this report.

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