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Bush Pleased with Iraq's Political, Military Progress

The White House says a decision by the Iraqi parliament to reverse controversial new election rules is a positive step before this month's constitutional referendum. President Bush says more and more Iraqi units are capable of protecting their own country.

White House Spokesman Scott McClellan says parliament's decision to restore the original rules for the October 15 referendum is a positive step that should encourage broader participation in the vote.

Sunni politicians had threatened a boycott following changes earlier this week that were meant to ensure the draft constitution's approval by changing rules about two-thirds of voters voting "no" to the less likely two-thirds of registered voters voting "no."

United Nations and U.S. officials expressed concerns over the change, and Iraq's parliament reversed its decision.

Speaking to reporters in the White House Rose Garden, President Bush said Iraq is making progress on both the political and military front. Without mentioning the rule changes, Mr. Bush pointed to this month's referendum and national elections to follow if the constitution is approved.

The president says he fully understands that terrorists intend to try to disrupt the constitutional process and stop the spread of democracy in Iraq, but U.S. troops will say on the offensive.

Mr. Bush says he is pleased to hear that 3,000 Iraqi troops are involved in the fight against insurgents, and U.S. military commanders tell him they are doing a fine job and making a real difference on the battlefield.

"Over 30 percent of the Iraqi troops are in the lead on these offensive operations," he said. "They have got troops embedded with them, and that is an important part of the training mission, but nevertheless, the Iraqis are showing more and more capability to take the fight to the enemy. And that is how we are going to succeed in helping democracy become established in Iraq."

The president says there is a quality control program to make sure that Iraqi troops trained by U.S. forces are capable of performing in combat.

Pentagon officials told Congress last week that only one of Iraq's 100 battalions is able to fight without U.S. support. The top U.S. commander in Iraq, General George Casey, says that number is down from three battalions because standards for the highest readiness rating have become more rigorous during the past few months.