WASHINGTON - President George W. Bush will issue a report as early as
Thursday likely to show only limited progress by Iraq's government even as he
scrambles to halt erosion of Republican support for an unpopular war.
The interim assessment demanded by
the US Congress could accelerate Democratic-led efforts to force Bush to start
scaling back troop levels in Iraq more than four years after a US-led invasion
that toppled Saddam Hussein.
A US soldier from the 2nd battalion, 32nd Field Artillery
brigade patrols the street in Yarmuk neighborhood in Baghdad on July 11,
With Iraq still plagued by violence, the administration will have little
choice but to concede that Iraqi leaders have not met some key security and
political goals set for them by Bush and US lawmakers to promote national
But the administration is expected to take a glass-half-full approach,
emphasizing hopeful signs since Bush ordered a US troop buildup six months ago,
including a drop in sectarian killings in Baghdad and increased arms seizures.
The New York Times and The Washington Post, quoting administration officials,
reported the assessment would state that progress in the Iraq security plan was
satisfactory on almost half the 18 benchmarks set by Congress, mostly related to
military issues. The Post added the report found insufficient improvement in
eight other benchmarks and mixed results in two others.
Facing a growing revolt by fellow Republicans skeptical of his Iraq policy,
Bush is trying to buy time, urging lawmakers to hold fire until US commanders
and top diplomats deliver their full progress report in September.
The White House has tried to keep expectations low.
"It's a snapshot," said Bush's press secretary, Tony Snow. He insisted this
week's midterm report could not yet gauge the success or failure of the troop
increase because the last of the 28,000 additional forces arrived only two weeks
But the early assessment prepared by Gen. David Petraeus and US Ambassador
Ryan Crocker is seen as pivotal amid mounting pressure for Bush to change
course. His public approval ratings have fallen to the lows of his presidency.
With Republicans increasingly worried the Iraq war could cost them the White
House in 2008, several prominent Bush allies like Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar
have broken ranks.
Trying to calm dissent, Bush met Republican leaders at the White House and
apparently gave some an overview of the interim report. "There is some good news
in there, but there is some not-so-good news in there too," a Republican aide
A US official said that in rating progress on a series of "benchmarks" set
for the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, "some are
satisfactory and some are not."
The report is likely to acknowledge the Iraqis' failure so far to meet
objectives crucial to sectarian reconciliation, such as agreement on sharing oil
revenues, scheduling of provincial elections and passage of de-Baathification
Doubts also linger about the readiness of Iraqi security forces to assume a
greater role from US forces, crucial to any future drawdown of American troops.
In May, Congress agreed to continue funding the war for now but demanded Bush
certify on July 15 and again on September 15 that the Iraqis were living up to
their political promises.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack let slip that the assessment was
expected on Thursday. The White House would only say it would be issued either
on Thursday or Friday.