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Pentagon Says Full Iraq Assessment Will Come in September


The U.S. Defense Department says it would be premature to judge the new Iraq strategy now, as some members of Congress have done, and a spokesman is appealing for more time for the military operation implementing that strategy to work. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

Spokesman Bryan Whitman says the interim report President Bush must make to the Congress this week was not designed to be a full assessment of the new strategy the president outlined in January. Whitman says that assessment will come by September 15, the date Congress set for a report by the top U.S. commander in Iraq and the U.S. ambassador.

"September is not a political strategy," he said. "September is the course that we charted out, the plan, the deal, the manner in which we devised a way forward."

The document due this week is to report mainly on the performance of the Iraqi government in meeting political benchmarks toward reconciliation. There has been little progress toward reaching those benchmarks, and Whitman and other U.S. government spokesman have said no one expected the Iraqis to fully meet the benchmarks by now.

Whitman says the report due this week has taken on what he called "some prominence that wasn't anticipated."

But Whitman stressed that all the extra troops President Bush ordered to Iraq in January have only been in place and pursuing their new offensive for a little more than three weeks.

"One should be very careful about making any sort of premature conclusions or judgments about where we are at at this point in time," he said.

Field commanders have reported good progress from the offensive, called Operation Phantom Thunder. But they say their successes are only first steps and there is much work to be done. Whitman says the defense department is focused on implementing the president's new strategy, and its best assessment of the effort will come later.

"It should be of no surprise to anybody that we believe that the first opportunity to really make an initial assessment as to how well the surge is working is September," he said.

Whitman says Defense Secretary Robert Gates is personally reviewing the Pentagon's part of this week's report, and will be meeting with members of Congress to discuss it.

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