RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
NPR's Jackie Northam reports.
JACKIE NORTHAM: Two months ago, when Congress passed a supplemental war spending bill, it ordered the White House to provide a progress report on Iraq by July 15th. Back then, the report was seen as an initial check on whether the U.S. military surge was reducing violence enough to create conditions for political progress. But as calls grow from both sides of the aisle to pull out of Iraq, the report has taken on greater political weight. Yesterday, President Bush tried to play down its importance, saying it was just a preliminary assessment.
GEORGE W: Of the 18 benchmarks Congress asked us to measure, we can report that satisfactory progress is being made in eight areas.
NORTHAM: As an example, President Bush pointed out the Iraqi government is spending more than $7 billion of its own funds this year to train, equip, and modernize its forces.
BUSH: In eight other areas, the Iraqis have much more work to do. For example, they have not done enough to prepare for local elections or pass a law to share oil revenues. And in two remaining areas, progress was too mixed to be characterized one way or the other.
NORTHAM: Ilan Goldenberg, policy director at the National Security Network, said some of the benchmarks are superficial, such as the one that called for establishing a constitutional review committee. That got a satisfactory check mark, but Goldenberg says it doesn't mean there's been any real progress towards hammering out a constitution in Iraq.
ILAN GOLDENBERG: Yes, they've created a committee, but the committee has asked for numerous extensions. Even though they've had numerous meetings, they've actually specifically agreed to table some of the most complicated issues and leave them out.
NORTHAM: The progress report indicates that the government has not been able to control militias and that sectarian violence is still rampant. That violence is hampering any efforts at political reconciliation, says Andrew Krepinevich with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. He says it was unrealistic to think that many of the political benchmarks could be reached this quickly because, Krepinevich said, historically power in Iraq means seizing it and holding on to it by any means.
ANDREW KREPINEVICH: And so after decades and decades and decades of this, the notion that somehow the Kurds, the Sunni Arabs, the Shia Arabs can sit down and work out some sort of a compromise, American-style, is really a very difficult proposition for them to undertake.
NORTHAM: But Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution, says the lack of political progress is more serious than the report suggests.
MICHAEL O: This is not really a lagging indicator. It should be actually a leading indicator because you need progress on a few issues like sharing oil before you can expect to see reconciliation or even a lowering of tension.
NORTHAM: Michael Rubin, with the American Enterprise Institute, says there is no real impetus for the various factions to come together, especially if the U.S. commitment to Iraq is shaky.
MICHAEL RUBIN: If they thought the Americans would be there for 20 years, they might be sitting down and negotiating right now. If they think the Americans aren't going to be a player in Iraq next year, there's absolutely no incentive to pay attention.
NORTHAM: Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.
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