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White House Report Cites Mixed Progress in Iraq


President Bush says there has been mixed progress in Iraq, and is calling for patience as an extra 30,000 U.S. troops take up their duties. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports from the White House.

President Bush says progress is slow in Iraq. But he says his revised strategy can work and he is urging Congress and the public to withhold judgment for a few more months.

"I know some in Washington would like us to be leaving Iraq now," he said. "To begin withdrawing before our commanders tell us we are ready would be dangerous."

The president spoke at a White House news conference, as he delivered a new report on Iraq to the U.S. Congress.

The interim report details progress toward meeting 18 benchmarks - or goals - set by both the American and Iraqi legislatures in the political, security and economic areas. Although President Bush said Iraq's performance has been satisfactory toward meeting eight of the targets, he said progress toward eight others has been non-satisfactory, and difficult to determine on two.

"Those who believe that the battle in Iraq is lost will likely point to the unsatisfactory performance on some of the political benchmarks," he added. "Those of us who believe the battle in Iraq can and must be won see the satisfactory performance on some of the security benchmarks as a cause for optimism."

The president stressed this report is designed to provide a quick impression of conditions now that the additional 30,000 U.S. troops he ordered deployed in January have arrived. And he said he is not surprised that political progress is slow.

"Our strategy is based on the premise that progress on security will pave the way for political progress, so it is not surprising that political progress is lagging behind the security gains we are seeing," Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush spoke as the House of Representatives opened debate on a bill calling for the withdrawal of most U.S. combat forces from Iraq by April of next year. Democratic leaders in the Senate announced plans to start formal consideration of their own drawdown measure next week.

Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois urged skeptical Republicans to join the effort to add the language to legislation authorizing military spending.

"This will be a moment for those Republican senators who question the policies of this administration to demonstrate that they really want change," said Durbin.

Iraqi officials, sensitive to the criticism in the report and the debate in Washington, are calling on U.S. lawmakers to avoid any precipitous withdrawals.

But, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told VOA if the additional U.S. troops help bring the level of violence down, American forces could begin to wind down military operations next year.

"We think that in 2008 the Iraqi security forces will be built to a certain extent that we could have a certain withdrawal of the American troops in good numbers," said al-Dabbagh.

The Iraqi spokesman went on to say that a premature withdrawal would be "a great gift to the terrorists."

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