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Iraq

President Cites Progress in Iraq; House OKs Pullout

Listen to NPR Special Coverage of President Bush's News Conference (Approximately 69 minutes)
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NPR's Brian Naylor: Democratic Reaction
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President Bush in a White House news conference Thursday

In a White House news conference Thursday, President Bush defended progress in Iraq and pleaded for more time for the troop "surge" strategy to work. Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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White House Assesses Iraq Benchmarks

Congress required President Bush to submit an initial report to lawmakers assessing whether the Iraqi government has made satisfactory progress toward achieving the benchmarks set for it. Read an assessment of progress described in the Bush administration's report.

Audio Highlights

Listen to highlights from President Bush's comments during Thursday's White House press conference:

Responding to Hearst's Helen Thomas, Who Said 'Mr. President, You Started This War'
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On How Well the Iraqi Government Has Met 18 Benchmarks Set by Congress
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On How Long He Will Wait for the Troop 'Surge' Strategy to Work
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On Congress' Role in Setting Iraq Policy
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On the Links Between Al-Qaida in Iraq, Osama Bin Laden and the Sept. 11 Hijackers
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On Whether He Still Has Confidence in Iraqi Lawmakers
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On His Decision to Commute I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby's Prison Sentence, and Putting the Issue to Rest
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Iraqi police cadets train at a firing range in a training base in the Iraqi town of Hilla, central I i

Iraqi police cadets train at a firing range in a training base in the Iraqi town of Hilla, central Iraq, on July 9, 2007. Mohammed Sawaf/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Iraqi police cadets train at a firing range in a training base in the Iraqi town of Hilla, central I

Iraqi police cadets train at a firing range in a training base in the Iraqi town of Hilla, central Iraq, on July 9, 2007.

Mohammed Sawaf/AFP/Getty Images

President Bush's pleas for patience on Iraq were rebuffed by House Democrats, who voted along party lines to approve a troop-withdrawal measure. The vote came after a White House report found limited progress toward Iraqi government benchmarks.

Earlier Thursday, the president defended progress in Iraq and pleaded for more time as the White House issued a report acknowledging that the Baghdad government has failed to meet many of the benchmarks laid down by Congress.

"We can report that satisfactory progress is being made in eight areas," Mr. Bush told reporters at the White House. "In eight other areas, the Iraqis have much more work to do."

The House withdrawal measure, which passed by a vote of 223-201, would require U.S. forces to be out of Iraq by next April.

It prompted some highly charged partisan debate. Georgia Republican Tom Price said the bill was nothing but political pandering by Democrats.

"Clearly, this bill was not written in response to what our generals think, whose interim report was released just hours ago," Price said. "Instead, it was written in reaction to polls and to pressure from moveon.org. And others."

But Georgia Democrat John Lewis said the measure was a step that would, as he put it, "end the madness in Iraq."

"How many more of our young people must die before we realize enough is enough," Lewis said. "One more day, our involvement — it's too many. One more death is one too many. This war is not worthy of another drop of human blood."

The Senate is expected to vote next week on a similar measure, but it is unlikely to survive. And if it were to reach the White House, it faces a certain veto by the president.

Mr. Bush said the newly released report had been completed less than a month after the final reinforcements in the so-called troop surge had arrived in country.

He said he understood that Americans were experiencing fatigue over an "ugly war," but that the course in Iraq needed to play out.

"The Iraqis do not want U.S. troops patrolling their cities forever, any more than the American people do," he said.

Bush said he would withdraw troops when the time is right, "not because pollsters say it will be good politics."

Overall, the much-anticipated White House report on Iraq found that the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad has not achieved any of the major goals considered necessary to quelling sectarian violence in the region, such as passing legislation to divide the nation's oil revenues.

While the president was fielding questions at a White House news conference, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) issued a statement saying the president needs to admit that his "Iraq policy has failed."

"It is time for the president to listen to the American people and do what is necessary to protect this nation," he said.

The White House assessment also comes as GOP support for the Bush policy in Iraq is in jeopardy, with Sens. Richard Lugar (R-IN), Pete Domenici (R-NM) and several other Republicans saying they want the president to begin reducing the U.S. military role in Iraq.

But House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio, standing firm with the president, called the Senate defectors "wimps" on Wednesday in a private meeting with rank-and-file Republicans.

Shoring up GOP support has become critical for the White House as public opinion polls chart ever-deepening opposition to the war and a climbing U.S. casualty count 16 months before the 2008 elections.

Democrats say the findings in the report are proof the war effort is failing, while most Republicans say the limited progress shows hope and that lawmakers should not lose faith.

Boehner "wimps" remark ironically came at nearly the same moment that several GOP senators beseeched the White House without apparent success for a quick change in course on Iraq.

"I'm hopeful they (White House officials) change their minds," Sen. Domenici said after a meeting that Mr. Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, held with several Republicans in the Capitol.

Domenici and several other GOP members, including Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, say they want Bush to begin reducing the military's role in Iraq. In the meeting, Hadley said Bush wants to wait until September when Gen. David Petraeus, the Iraq war commander, will reassess military progress.

Emboldened by the Republican divide, Democrats called for a vote on legislation to end U.S. combat operations next year. The House planned to vote first on Thursday.

Boehner spokesman Brian Kennedy said the lawmaker's comments "were intended to illustrate the fact that we just recently voted to give the troops our full support - including ample time for the

Petraeus plan to work, and that too much is at stake for Congress to renege on its commitment now by approving what can only be described as another partisan stunt by Democrats."

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

White House Assesses Iraq Benchmarks

Congress required President Bush to submit an initial report to lawmakers assessing whether the Iraqi government has made satisfactory progress toward achieving the benchmarks set for it. Following is the assessment of progress described in the Bush administration's report:

Unsatisfactory

- Enacting and implementing legislation on de-Baathification.

- Enacting and implementing legislation to ensure the equitable distribution of hydrocarbon resources of the people of Iraq without regard to the sect or ethnicity of recipients, and enacting and implementing legislation to ensure that the energy resources of Iraq benefit Sunni Arabs, Shia Arabs, Kurds, and other Iraqi citizens in an equitable manner.

- Providing Iraqi commanders with all authorities to execute this plan and to make tactical and operational decisions, in consultation with U.S commanders, without political intervention, to include the authority to pursue all extremists, including Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias.

- Ensuring that the Iraqi Security Forces are providing evenhanded enforcement of the law.

- Increasing the number of Iraqi security forces units capable of operating independently.

- Ensuring that Iraq's political authorities are not undermining or making false accusations against members of the Iraqi Security Forces.


Unsatisfactory, But with Some Components of Progress

- Reducing the level of sectarian violence in Iraq and eliminating militia control of local security.

- Enacting and implementing legislation establishing an Independent High Electoral Commission, provincial elections law, provincial council authorities, and a date for provincial elections.


Satisfactory

- Forming a Constitutional Review Committee and then completing the constitutional review.

- Enacting and implementing legislation on procedures to form semiautonomous regions.

- Establishing supporting political, media, economic, and services committees in support of the Baghdad Security Plan.

- Providing three trained and ready Iraqi brigades to support Baghdad operations.

- Ensuring that the Baghdad security plan will not provide a safe haven for outlaws, regardless of sectarian or political affiliation, as Bush says Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has pledged to do.

- Establishing all of the planned joint security stations in neighborhoods across Baghdad.

- Ensuring that the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature are protected.

- Allocating and spending $10 billion in Iraqi revenues for reconstruction projects, including delivery of essential services, on an equitable basis.


Too Early to Assess

- Enacting and implementing legislation addressing amnesty.

- Enacting and implementing legislation establishing a strong militia disarmament program to ensure that such security forces are accountable only to the central government and loyal to the constitution of Iraq.

From The Associated Press

More Stories on Iraq Progress:

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