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Study Finds Iraq Not Meeting Benchmarks


A long awaited report to Congress by President Bush says Iraq's government has made little progress in meeting political and military goals over the last few months. The release of the report comes just one day after President Bush told the American public that U.S. troops had made enough progress in Iraq to begin brings thousands of them home by the end of this year. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports.

The president's report to Congress on the state of military and political progress in Iraq shows just one improvement since July, the ability of members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party to hold government jobs.

On eight other benchmarks - including equitable law enforcement, reducing sectarian violence, and sharing oil revenue - the White House report finds Iraq's progress unsatisfactory.

It judges as satisfactory nine indicators, including the protection of minority political parties and the establishment of joint security stations in Baghdad. Like the July report, this update says it is too soon to assess the two remaining benchmarks, amnesty and a militia disarmament program.

In a written statement accompanying the report, White House Spokesman Tony Snow says there have been other, equally important developments including passing a budget.

President Bush did not address the benchmarks after meeting with Marine lieutenants at a military base in Virginia Friday. Instead, he is focusing on his announcement Thursday evening that he will bring nearly 6,000 troops home from Iraq by the end of the year.

"Now is a chance for us to come together as a nation," said Mr. Bush. "Some of us who believed security was paramount were on opposite sides of a debate with people who say we simply need to bring our troops home. Well, now we got security in the right direction and we are bringing our troops home."

The president's plan would leave about 130,000 Americans in Iraq by the middle of 2008.

Earlier this year, opposition Democrats failed to gain enough votes in the Senate to force the president to set a timetable for troop withdrawal, largely because enough members of the president's own political party felt his plan needed more time to work.

Democrats now hope to convince enough Republicans to join them in votes next week limiting the mission of U.S. troops to training Iraqi forces, protecting U.S. personnel, and hunting terrorists.

Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed says the president is failing to provide either a plan to successfully end the war or a convincing rationale to continue it.

"Last evening, the president did not set out a new course for Iraq," said Mr. Reed. "What he did was accept the reality of our limited military force structure, the number of soldiers and Marines we have on duty."

A public opinion poll by the Associated Press this week shows nearly two-thirds of Americans disapprove of the president's handling of the war.

Mr. Bush says he has asked military commanders to report back to Congress next March about what troop levels might then be needed to maintain security in Iraq.

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