Washington, DC - (CBS/AP) The Iraqi government has made only mixed progress toward fulfilling goals for political, military and economic reform, the Bush administration said Thursday in a report certain to inflame debate in Congress over growing calls for a U.S. troop withdrawal.
In an interim report required by Congress, the administration accused Syria of fostering a network that supplies as many as 50 to 80 suicide bombers per month for al Qaeda in Iraq. It also said Iran continues to fund extremist groups.
The report said that despite progress on some fronts by the government of Nouri al-Maliki, "the security situation in Iraq remains complex and extremely challenging," the "economic picture is uneven" and political reconciliation is lagging.
At a news conference that coincided with the report's release, President Bush said, "I believe we should succeed in Iraq and I know we must."
The report warned of "tough fighting" during the summer, as U.S. and Iraqi forces "seek to seize the initiative from early gains and shape conditions of longer-term stabilization."
While Mr. Bush announced last winter he was ordering thousands of additional troops to the war zone, the full complement has only arrived in recent weeks, "The full surge in this respect has only just begun," the report said.
In an evident jab at critics of the president's war policies, the report also said progress toward political reconciliation was hampered by "increasing concern among Iraqi political leaders that the United States may not have a long term-commitment to Iraq."
The report was issued in the fifth year of a war that has taken the lives of more than 3,000 U.S. troops, and is costing the United States an estimated $10 billion a month.
In all, it credited the Iraqi government with satisfactory progress on eight benchmarks, unsatisfactory progress on another eight and mixed results on the other two.
At the White House, press secretary Tony Snow said the fact that "satisfactory progress" has been made in several security areas "should provide some space for the government of Iraq to make progress on key political benchmarks."
"The report is balanced and sober," he said in a statement. "It documents the challenges faced by U.S. and Iraqi forces and provides a basis for measuring progress as the surge enters the stage of full implementation."
The report was designed as an interim assessment of the shift in policy that Bush announced last winter, in the wake of Republican defections in an election in which the war played a significant role.
A second report is due in September from Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq.
The new assessment landed as both houses of Congress debated legislation to order the withdrawal of U.S. troops by next spring. The House appeared on track to approve its version of the bill later in the day, but opponents in the Senate appear to have the strength to prevent a final vote next week in the Senate.
In either event, Mr. Bush has pledged to veto the legislation, and has enough support to make his rejection stick.
Predictably, Democrats say the report's findings are proof the war effort is failing, while Republicans say the limited progress shows hope and that lawmakers should not lose faith.
However, Republican unity in the U.S. Congress is fraying on the long war.
"Wimps," House Republican leader John Boehner called Republican defectors in the Senate – a growing breed as public opinion polls chart ever-deepening opposition to the war and a climbing U.S. casualty count 16 months before the 2008 presidential and congressional elections.
Boehner made his "wimps" remark in a private meeting Wednesday with rank-and-file Republicans – ironically at nearly the same moment that several Republican senators beseeched the White House without apparent success for a quick change in course on Iraq. (Read more)
"I'm hopeful they (White House officials) change their minds," Sen. Pete Domenici said after a meeting that President Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, held with several Republicans in the Capitol.
Domenici and several other Republican members, including Sens. Richard Lugar and George Voinovich, say they want Mr. Bush to begin reducing the military's role in Iraq. In the meeting, Hadley said Mr. 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.
CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports exclusively that a U.S. pullout would be extremely complicated, dangerous and would take two years if the military takes all its equipment out, according to a study recently presented to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
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