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Progress is seen on half of Iraq goals

White House answers Congress on benchmarks

WASHINGTON -- A widely anticipated White House report on Iraq, set for release today, contends that Iraq has made "satisfactory" progress toward nearly half of the political and military goals sought by Congress, while acknowledging that an equal number remain "unsatisfactory," an administration official said yesterday.

The report, ordered by lawmakers as an interim assessment of President Bush's troop increase strategy, identifies some positive movement in eight of the 18 congressional benchmarks, most of them related to military issues, official said. It finds insufficient improvement in eight others, mainly related to political reconciliation, and concludes that results have been mixed in the final two.

US intelligence analysts this week offered an overwhelmingly negative view of military and political conditions in Iraq, saying that Iraqi forces will remain incapable of taking charge of security for years to come, and that deepening sectarian political divides remain the largest impediment to progress.

On Capitol Hill, where the Senate is debating Bush's Iraq strategy, an early vote on legislation designed to tie the president's hands fell victim to a Republican filibuster yesterday.

Democrats fell four short of the 60-vote super-majority demanded by Republican leaders for an amendment to the defense authorization bill now under debate.

The amendment, proposed by Senator James Webb, Democrat of Virginia, would have prevented the redeployment of active-duty troops to Iraq or Afghanistan until they had been rested at home for the same period of time they served in the war zone.

Despite the setback, two more GOP lawmakers, Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine and Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, joined the growing ranks of Republicans who have broken with the administration, saying that they would support Democratic efforts to begin US troop reductions.

National security adviser Stephen Hadley met with key Republican lawmakers yesterday in an effort to stop the defections, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice placed phone calls. At least eight GOP senators have now said they favor one or more of several proposed amendments to a defense policy bill that would require an early troop drawdown.

Bush met at the White House with Senators John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, both supporters of his policy who just returned from Iraq, and with other Republican leaders.

The upcoming report is the first of two -- one this month and one in September -- that Congress ordered the White House to produce when it passed war funding legislation Bush requested last spring.

The legislation said that if Bush could not certify progress on each of the 18 goals, he would have to offer changes in strategy or risk a reduction in funding.

The report -- drafted by the National Security Council with input from the Pentagon, State Department, Iraq commander David Petraeus, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, and others -- evaluates the performance of the Iraqi government in the six months since Bush announced that he was sending nearly 30,000 additional troops there. His overall goal, the president said at the time, was to stem escalating violence in order to give the Iraqi government more space and time to achieve political reconciliation.

Officials stressed that the report does not claim that any of the benchmarks have been fully met, only that in some cases there has been forward movement.