President Cites Progress in Iraq; House OKs Pullout
President Bush's pleas for patience on Iraq were rebuffed by House Democrats, who voted along party lines to approve a troop-withdrawal measure. The vote came after a White House report found limited progress toward Iraqi government benchmarks.
Earlier Thursday, the president defended progress in Iraq and pleaded for more time as the White House issued a report acknowledging that the Baghdad government has failed to meet many of the benchmarks laid down by Congress.
"We can report that satisfactory progress is being made in eight areas," Mr. Bush told reporters at the White House. "In eight other areas, the Iraqis have much more work to do."
The House withdrawal measure, which passed by a vote of 223-201, would require U.S. forces to be out of Iraq by next April.
It prompted some highly charged partisan debate. Georgia Republican Tom Price said the bill was nothing but political pandering by Democrats.
"Clearly, this bill was not written in response to what our generals think, whose interim report was released just hours ago," Price said. "Instead, it was written in reaction to polls and to pressure from moveon.org. And others."
But Georgia Democrat John Lewis said the measure was a step that would, as he put it, "end the madness in Iraq."
"How many more of our young people must die before we realize enough is enough," Lewis said. "One more day, our involvement — it's too many. One more death is one too many. This war is not worthy of another drop of human blood."
The Senate is expected to vote next week on a similar measure, but it is unlikely to survive. And if it were to reach the White House, it faces a certain veto by the president.
Mr. Bush said the newly released report had been completed less than a month after the final reinforcements in the so-called troop surge had arrived in country.
He said he understood that Americans were experiencing fatigue over an "ugly war," but that the course in Iraq needed to play out.
"The Iraqis do not want U.S. troops patrolling their cities forever, any more than the American people do," he said.
Bush said he would withdraw troops when the time is right, "not because pollsters say it will be good politics."
Overall, the much-anticipated White House report on Iraq found that the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad has not achieved any of the major goals considered necessary to quelling sectarian violence in the region, such as passing legislation to divide the nation's oil revenues.
While the president was fielding questions at a White House news conference, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) issued a statement saying the president needs to admit that his "Iraq policy has failed."
"It is time for the president to listen to the American people and do what is necessary to protect this nation," he said.
The White House assessment also comes as GOP support for the Bush policy in Iraq is in jeopardy, with Sens. Richard Lugar (R-IN), Pete Domenici (R-NM) and several other Republicans saying they want the president to begin reducing the U.S. military role in Iraq.
But House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio, standing firm with the president, called the Senate defectors "wimps" on Wednesday in a private meeting with rank-and-file Republicans.
Shoring up GOP support has become critical for the White House as public opinion polls chart ever-deepening opposition to the war and a climbing U.S. casualty count 16 months before the 2008 elections.
Democrats say the findings in the report are proof the war effort is failing, while most Republicans say the limited progress shows hope and that lawmakers should not lose faith.
Boehner "wimps" remark ironically came at nearly the same moment that several GOP senators beseeched the White House without apparent success for a quick change in course on Iraq.
"I'm hopeful they (White House officials) change their minds," Sen. Domenici said after a meeting that Mr. Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, held with several Republicans in the Capitol.
Domenici and several other GOP members, including Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, say they want Bush to begin reducing the military's role in Iraq. In the meeting, Hadley said 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.
Boehner spokesman Brian Kennedy said the lawmaker's comments "were intended to illustrate the fact that we just recently voted to give the troops our full support - including ample time for the
Petraeus plan to work, and that too much is at stake for Congress to renege on its commitment now by approving what can only be described as another partisan stunt by Democrats."
From NPR reports and The Associated Press
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