Which Iraq Benchmarks Are Being Met?

President Bush defended his decision to stay the course in Iraq today, while discussing a new report that says the Iraqi government has failed to make satisfactory progress in eight of 18 congressional mandates.

Bush said he would wait until September before making any decisions on changing his war policy.

"I believe we should succeed in Iraq and I know we must," Bush told reporters during a televised White House news conference.

During the news conference, Bush announced that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates would travel to the Middle East in August to "reassure our friends that the Middle East remains a vital strategic priority for the United States."

In response to congressional efforts to change the president's Iraq policy, Bush said that while he respected their efforts, "Congress should not be running the war, they should be funding our troops."

President Bush insisted that while he is "realistic about the consequences of failure," he believes that what happens in Iraq matters to U.S. security.

He also rejected a report saying that al Qaeda is stronger today than since 9/11, saying the terrorist organization "is still a threat."

Meanwhile Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called the Iraq report "discouraging" and further confirmation that the "war in Iraq is headed in a dangerous direction." He added that the United States needs to change "course now, not in September."

The Iraq Progress Report

In the security category, progress on three of eight benchmarks were marked satisfactory. The satisfactory categories were providing Iraqi brigades for the surge, setting up joint security stations with the Americans and reducing the level of sectarian violence.

In other categories considered key to success in Iraq, such as ensuring that Iraqi security forces are providing evenhanded enforcement and increasing the number of Iraqi forces capable of operating independently, the report determined progress had not been satisfactory.

The report concludes that the Iraqi forces, a major part of Bush's strategy, simply have "not made sufficient progress."

Of nine benchmarks on the political front, only four were found satisfactory, and those were hardly significant achievements.

For example, a "review committee" was formed and "legislation on procedures" was implemented.

Areas where there was not sufficient progress included political reconciliation and disarming militias — both areas vital to Iraq's future.

The one satisfactory economic benchmark involved the allocation of funds, but the money has yet to be spent so the Iraqi people have not seen the results.

The report cites one reason for the difficulties, saying, "The increasing concern among Iraqi political leaders that the U.S. may not have a long-term commitment to Iraq has served in recent months to reinforce hedging behaviors and made the hardest political bargains even more difficult."

The president stressed that the report released today was only an interim snapshot.

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