WASHINGTON - The Iraqi government is achieving
only spotty military and political progress, the Bush administration conceded
Thursday in an assessment that war critics quickly seized on as confirmation of
their dire warnings. Within hours, the House voted to withdraw U.S. troops by
The House measure passed 223-201 in the Democratic-controlled chamber despite
a veto threat from President Bush, who has ruled out any change in war policy
"The security situation in Iraq remains complex and extremely challenging,"
the administration report concluded. The economic picture is uneven, it added,
and the government has not yet enacted vital political reconciliation
As many as 80
suicide bombers per month cross into the country from Syria, said the interim
assessment, which is to be followed by a fuller accounting in September from
Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in the region.
"I believe we can succeed in Iraq, and I know we must," Bush said at a White
House news conference at which he stressed the interim nature of the report.
Describing a document produced by his administration at Congress' insistence,
he said there was satisfactory progress by the Iraqi government toward meeting
eight of 18 so-called benchmarks, unsatisfactory progress on eight more and
mixed results on the rest.
To his critics - including an increasing number of Republicans - he said
bluntly, "I don't think Congress ought to be running the war. I think they ought
to be funding the troops."
Democrats saw it differently.
A few hours after Bush's remarks, Democratic leaders engineered passage of
legislation requiring the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops to begin within 120
days, and to be completed by April 1, 2008. The measure envisions a limited
residual force to train Iraqis, protect U.S. assets and fight al-Qaida and other
The vote generally followed party lines: 219 Democrats and four Republicans
in favor, and 191 Republicans and 10 Democrats opposed.
Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., voted for troop withdrawals for the first time,
contending that while she still opposes a swift pullout, "staying in Iraq
indefinitely is equally unacceptable."
"The report makes clear that not even the White House can conclude there has
been significant progress," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
To Bush and others who seek more time for the administration's policy to
work, she said, "We have already waited too long."
Republicans sided with Bush - at least for now. The bill "undermines Gen.
Petraeus, undermines the mission he has to make America and Iraq safe," said the
House GOP leader, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio. "What we have here is not
leadership, it's negligence."
The 25-page administration report was issued in the fifth year of a war that
has claimed the lives of more than 3,600 U.S. troops and is costing U.S.
taxpayers an estimated $10 billion a month.
Bush announced last winter he was ordering thousands of additional troops to
the war zone, but the full complement has only arrived in recent weeks. "The
full surge in this respect has only just begun," the report said.
It warned of "tough fighting" during the summer as U.S. and Iraqi forces
"seek to seize the initiative from early gains and shape conditions of
The president sampled the report at his nationally televised session with
"Iraqis have provided the three brigades they promised for operations in and
around Baghdad. And the Iraqi government is spending nearly $7.3 billion from
its own funds this year to train, equip and modernize its forces," he said.
But in other areas, he added, they "have much more work to do. For example,
they've not done enough to prepare for local elections or pass a law to share
The report was blunt at points and more opaque at others.
While Iraq has begun to show progress in providing services, "citizens
nationwide complain about government corruption and the lack of essential
services, such as electricity, fuel supply, sewer, water, health and
At another point, it added, "The prerequisites for a successful militia
disarmament program are not present."
In addition to citing a Syrian connection for terrorists, it also said Iran
has continued to foster instability in Iraq.
It cited measured progress on the economic front. "Unemployment has eased
slightly and inflation is currently abating," the report said. It omitted
mention of a June 1 Pentagon report estimating an annual inflation rate at 33
percent and the Iraqi government estimate of joblessness at 17 percent.
In an evident jab at critics of Bush's war policies, the report also said
progress toward political reconciliation was hampered by "increasing concern
among Iraqi political leaders that the United States may not have a long
term-commitment to Iraq."
Despite rising pressure from Republicans in Congress for a change in course,
Bush was adamant.
"When we start drawing down our forces in Iraq, it will (be) because our
military commanders say the conditions on the ground are right, not because
pollsters say it'll be good politics," he said.
Before Thursday's House vote, GOP aides said they hoped to suffer only a few
party defections, but the administration faced a more volatile situation in the
Senate. There, three Republicans have already said they intend to vote for a
separate withdrawal measure, and several others have signed on as supporters of
a bipartisan bill to implement a series of changes recommended last winter by
the Iraqi Study Group.
Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., who announced his intention to seek a change in
policy last week, issued a statement that said the administration's most recent
assessment "confirms my worst fears that while the Iraqi government is making
some progress on some benchmarks, it's not moving fast enough to make meaningful
or lasting progress."
Even so, it appears the president's allies have the support to block a final
Senate vote in a showdown expected next week.
If the report changed any minds in Congress, it was not immediately apparent.
"It is time for the president to listen to the American people and do what is
necessary to protect this nation. That means admitting his Iraq policy has
failed, working with the Democrats and Republicans in Congress on crafting a new
way forward in Iraq and refocusing our collective efforts on defeating
al-Qaida," said Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
But Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said Congress
has already decided it will be September before the administration's strategy
can be evaluated properly. "Certainly the young soldiers and Marines risking
their lives today on the streets of Baghdad and Ramadi would agree - and they
deserve our patience."