Republicans Can Turn to the Iraq Index

Lawmakers may depend on the Iraq Index, a new measure of wartime progress in Iraq, to determine the level of funding for the war after September.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

And I'm Andrea Seabrook.

How can you tell if you're winning a war when there are no frontlines or even discreet battles? That question may arise from the question of benchmarks. Some members of Congress say they only want to continue funding the Iraq war if the government in Baghdad meets specific political and military goals.

News analysts Daniel Schorr says this isn't the first time the U.S. has tried to quantify military success.

DANIEL SCHORR: It's a new term, the Iraq Index - vaguely reminiscent of the Viet Cong body count as a measure of wartime progress. It's apparently part of an administration effort to head off defections by Republican moderates in Congress.

At a no-holds barred meeting last Tuesday that was supposed to have remained a secret, a reported 11 Republican lawmakers served notice that they would stick with the president on war funding for now, but could not be counted on after September unless the administration could show evidence of a substantial progress in the war.

The president's immediate response was for the first time to indicate possible conditions attached to American support. He said, it makes sense to have benchmarks as part of our discussion on how to go forward. But he defined benchmarks in ambiguous terms. Mr. Bush also said, sectarian murders are down. He didn't mention that car bombings and killing of American soldiers are up.

Republican moderates decided to reach outside the government for clarification. The Brookings Institution - usually referred to as a liberal think-tank - has created something called the Iraq Index. And scholars Jason Campbell and Michael O'Hanlon were invited to meet with the congressional Republicans.

The Brookings scholars tell me that the index is based on data compiled on various aspects of life in Iraq - items like the monthly bomb rate and the number of foreign nationals kidnapped but also non-military factors like the rate of restoration of electricity and Internet access.

It may be a curios way to judge progress, but the Iraq Index may help to determine where funding for the war goes after September.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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