A progress report on Iraq will conclude that the US-backed
government in Baghdad has not met any of its targets for political,
economic and other reforms, speeding up the Bush administration's
reckoning on what to do next, a US official said on Monday.
The "pivot point" for addressing the matter will no longer be
September 15, as initially envisioned, when a full report on George
W. Bush's so-called surge plan is due, but instead will come this
week when the interim mid-July assessment is released, the official
said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the draft is still
But another senior official said Bush's advisors, along with the
president, decided last week there was not enough evidence from
Iraq to justify a change now in current policy.
They had launched discussions about how to react to the erosion
of support for the president's Iraq approach among prominent
Republicans, the second official said, and the debate was part of a
broader search for a way out of a US combat presence in Iraq by the
end of Bush's presidency.
The decision was to wait for the September report - one
originally proposed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other
administration officials, and then enshrined into law by Congress -
before deciding whether any course shift is warranted, the second
official said. He too spoke on condition of anonymity so he could
talk more freely about internal deliberations.
The July report, required by law, is expected to be delivered to
Capitol Hill by Thursday or Friday, as the Senate takes up a
US$649-billion defense policy bill and votes on a Democratic
amendment ordering troop withdrawals to begin in 120 days.
The second official said the report "will present a picture of
satisfactory progress on some benchmarks and not on others".
Also being drafted are several Republican-backed proposals that
would force a new course in Iraq, including one by Senators Susan
Collins (Republican from Maine), and Ben Nelson (Democrat from
Nebraska), which would require US troops to abandon combat
missions. Collins and Nelson say their binding amendment would
order the US mission to focus on training the Iraqi security
forces, targeting al-Qaida members and protecting Iraq's
"My goal is to redefine the mission and set the stage for a
significant but gradual 'drawdown' of our troops next year," said
Republican Party support for the war has eroded steadily since
Bush's decision in January to send some 30,000 additional troops to
Iraq. At the time, Bush said the Iraqis agreed to meet certain
benchmarks, such as enacting a law to divide the nation's oil
This spring, Congress agreed to continue funding the war through
September but demanded that Bush certify on July 15 and again on
September 15 that the Iraqis were living up to their political
promises or forgo US aid dollars.
The first official said it is highly unlikely that Bush will
withhold or suspend aid to the Iraqis based on the report.
A draft version of the administration's progress report was
circulated among various government agencies in Washington on
Monday, the day White House Press Secretary Tony Snow tried to
lower expectations on the report. His contention is that the
additional troops had just got in place and it would be unrealistic
to expect major progress by now.
"You are not going to expect all the benchmarks to be met at the
beginning of something," Snow said. "I'm not sure everyone's going
to get an 'A' on the first report."
In recent weeks, the White House has tried to shore up eroding
GOP support for the war.
Collins and five other Republican senators - Lamar Alexander of
Tennessee, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, Robert Bennett of Utah,
John Sununu of New Hampshire and Pete Domenici of New Mexico -
support separate legislation calling on Bush to adopt as US policy
recommendations by the Iraq Study Group, which identified a
potential redeployment date of spring 2008.
Several Republican stalwarts, including Senators Ted Stevens of
Alaska, Christopher Bond of Missouri, Jon Kyl of Arizona and James
Inhofe of Oklahoma, said they still supported Bush's Iraq
Kyl said he would try to focus this week's debate on preserving
vital anti-terrorism programs, including the detention of terror
suspects at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The defense bill is on track to
expand the legal rights of those held in the military prison, and
many Democrats want to propose legislation that would shut the
(China Daily via agencies July 11, 2007)