WASHINGTON (AP) – A progress report on Iraq will conclude that the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad has not met any of its targets for political, economic and other reform, speeding up the Bush administration’s reckoning on what to do next, a U.S. official said Monday.
One likely result of the report will be a vastly accelerated debate among President Bush’s top aides on withdrawing troops and scaling back the U.S. presence in Iraq.
The “pivot point” for addressing the matter will no longer be Sept. 15, as initially envisioned, when a full report on 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.
“The facts are not in question,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the draft is still under discussion. “The real question is how the White House proceeds with a post-surge strategy in light of the report.”
The report, required by law, is expected to be delivered to Capitol Hill by Thursday or Friday, as the Senate takes up a $649 billion defense policy bill and votes on a Democratic amendment ordering troop withdrawals to begin in 120 days.
Also being drafted are several Republican-backed proposals that would force a new course in Iraq, including one by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Ben Nelson, D-Neb., that would require U.S. troops to abandon combat missions. Collins and Nelson say their binding amendment would order the U.S. mission to focus on training the Iraqi security forces, targeting al-Qaida members and protecting Iraq’s borders.
“My goal is to redefine the mission and set the stage for a significant but gradual drawdown of our troops next year,” said Collins.
GOP 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 reserves.
This spring, Congress agreed to continue funding the war through September but demanded that Bush certify on July 15 and again on Sept. 15 that the Iraqis were living up to their political promises or forgo U.S. aid dollars.
The 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 circulated among various government agencies in Washington on Monday.
White House Press Secretary Tony Snow on Monday tried to lower expectations on the report, contending that all of the additional troops had just gotten 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 GOP 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 U.S. policy recommendations by the Iraq Study Group, which identified a potential redeployment date of spring 2008.
Other prominent Republican senators, including Richard Lugar of Indiana, George Voinovich of Ohio, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Olympia Snowe of Maine, also say the U.S. should begin redeployments.
Several GOP stalwarts, including Sens. Ted Stevens of Alaska, Christopher Bond of Missouri, Jon Kyl of Arizona and James Inhofe of Oklahoma, said they still support Bush’s Iraq strategy.
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 at the military prison, and many Democrats want to propose legislation that would shut the facility.
“If Democrats use the defense authorization bill to pander to the far left at the expense of our national security, they should expect serious opposition from Republicans,” Kyl said.
As the Senate debate began, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee arranged to run television commercials in four states, beginning Tuesday, to pressure Republicans on the war.
The ads are to run in Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota and New Hampshire, according to knowledgeable officials, but the DSCC so far has committed to spending a relatively small amount of money, less than $100,000 in all. Barring a change in plans that means the ads would not be seen widely in any of the four states.
The targets include Sens. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Collins of Maine, Sununu of New Hampshire and the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. All face re-election next year.
The boost in troop levels in Iraq has increased the cost of war there and in Afghanistan to $12 billion a month, with the overall tally for Iraq alone nearing a half-trillion dollars, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, which provides research and analysis to lawmakers.
The figures call into question the Pentagon’s estimate that the increase in troop strength and intensifying pace of operations in Baghdad and Anbar province would cost $5.6 billion through the end of September.
Associated Press reporters Pauline Jelinek, Andrew Taylor, Matthew Lee and Jennifer Loven contributed to this report.