White House Gives Iraq Mixed Marks in Report
Thursday, July 12, 2007
A widely anticipated White House report on Iraq, set for release today, argues that the Baghdad government has made "satisfactory" progress toward nearly half of the political and military goals sought by Congress, while acknowledging that an equal number remain "not satisfactory," an administration official said yesterday.
The report, ordered by lawmakers as an interim assessment of President Bush's troop-increase strategy, identifies some positive movement in eight of the 18 congressional benchmarks, most of them related to military issues; finds insufficient improvement in eight others, mainly related to political reconciliation; and judges mixed results in the final two, the official said.
The administration's assessment comes the day after U.S. intelligence experts offered an overwhelmingly negative view of military and political conditions in Iraq, saying that Iraqi forces will remain incapable of taking charge of security for years to come and that deepening sectarian political divides remain the largest impediment to progress.
On Capitol Hill, where the Senate is debating Bush's Iraq strategy, an early vote on legislation designed to tie the president's hands fell victim to a Republican filibuster. But two more lawmakers, Sens. Olympia J. Snowe (Maine) and Chuck Hagel (Neb.), joined the growing ranks of Republicans who have broken with the administration, saying they would support Democratic efforts to begin U.S. troop reductions.
National security adviser Stephen J. Hadley met with key Republican lawmakers yesterday in an effort to stop the defections, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice placed phone calls. At least eight GOP senators have now said they favor one or more of several proposed amendments to a defense policy bill that would require an early troop drawdown. Most of those senators are up for reelection in 2008.
Bush met at the White House with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), both supporters of his policy who just returned from Iraq, and with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).
The upcoming report is the first of two -- the second will come in September -- that Congress ordered the White House to produce when it passed war funding legislation he requested this spring. The legislation said that if Bush could not certify progress on each of the 18 goals, he would have to offer changes in strategy or risk a reduction in funding.
The White House originally envisioned today's report as a midterm update, but it has taken on greater political importance in recent days as senior Senate Republicans have bolted. The report -- drafted by the National Security Council with input from the Pentagon, the State Department, Iraq commander David H. Petraeus, Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker and other parts of the administration -- evaluates the performance of the Iraqi government in the six months since Bush announced he was sending nearly 30,000 additional troops there. His overall goal, the president said at the time, was to stem escalating violence in order to give the Iraqi government more space and time to achieve political reconciliation. He outlined several specific political and security goals, which Congress later expanded and Bush signed into law.
Officials stressed that the report does not claim that any of the benchmarks have been fully met, only that in some cases there has been forward movement. "It divides about 50-50," said an administration official who was not authorized to speak about the assessment on the record before Bush releases it.
For instance, the report describes as "not satisfactory" the Iraqi government's progress toward enacting a law governing the distribution of oil revenue, an area of deep division among Iraqi factions. But it says the government, as promised, sent additional military brigades to Baghdad to help bolster security.
The findings will also cite what the White House considers positive indicators outside the original benchmarks, such as the cooperation between U.S. forces and tribal sheiks in Anbar province against the group al-Qaeda in Iraq, a recent drop in sectarian killings in Baghdad, and signs of normal life in the capital, such as amusement parks, markets and professional soccer leagues.
Aides expect Bush to speak publicly about the report, which runs about 25 pages, and to argue that the additional U.S. troops need to be given more time because the last of them arrived just a few weeks ago. They said he may also use the opportunity to discuss his intent to draw down forces and redefine the mission of the remaining U.S. troops if the increase improves security.