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White House to back Iraq policy on Hill

/ Source: The Associated Press

As the Senate debates taking a new course in Iraq, President Bush’s national security adviser scheduled a meeting with more than a dozen Republican senators in a bid to shore up eroding support for the war.

Stephen Hadley was to visit Capitol Hill on Wednesday — one of many such forays in recent days — as the White House finalized a 23-page progress report on Iraq that concludes the government in Baghdad has made little progress in meeting reform goals laid down by Bush and Congress.

Iraq’s inability to pass laws considered key to national cohesion and economic recovery or achieve other major milestones has prompted a backlash by Bush’s one-time staunch political defenders.

At least 10 Republicans in recent weeks have said the United States should start reducing the military’s role in Iraq, with the latest challenge to the president’s Iraq strategy coming Tuesday from Sen. Elizabeth Dole.

“Simply put, our troops have been doing a great job, but the Iraqi government has not,” Dole, R-N.C., said. “Our commitment in Iraq is not indefinite, nor should the Iraqi government perceive it to be. It is my firm hope and belief that we can start bringing our troops home in 2008.”

Up to 20 GOP senators were invited to the meeting with Hadley to discuss the war.

18 benchmarks
Earlier this year, Congress passed a 2007 war spending bill that identified 18 benchmarks for political, security and economic reforms. The list was based on promises made by the Iraqi government when Bush decided to send in 30,000 additional U.S. troops.

The legislation required Bush to certify by July 15 and again on Sept. 15 that Baghdad was making significant strides in meeting the benchmarks. If he cannot, U.S. aid dollars must be cut, according to the law.

The law allows Bush to waive the requirement to cut funding.

Based on that list, the administration is likely to argue some progress has been made in reducing the level of sectarian violence and militia control. Iraq also has established several, but not all, of the needed joint neighborhood security stations in Baghdad, as well as increased the number of capable Iraqi security units.

But the report also is expected to concede that several major goals have not been met: Iraqi laws to allocate oil and gas resources and revenue, and to address amnesty for former Baath Party members.

Bush is not expected to withhold aid from the Iraqis.

Key legislation up for vote
The report comes as the Senate and House prepare to vote on Democratic legislation that would order combat to end by April 30, 2008, with troop withdrawals starting in 120 days.

Bush said Tuesday he would veto such legislation. He also said he would not rethink his military strategy until at least September, when the top military commander delivers a progress report on the troop buildup.

“That’s what the American people expect. They expect for military people to come back and tell us how the military operations are going,” Bush said. “And that’s the way I’m going to play it as commander in chief.”

Skeptical Republicans mostly agree they will oppose the Democratic proposal, and it is expected to fail. But these GOP members say they want to see legislation that would require U.S. troops no longer conduct combat missions, and focus on border control and counterterrorism efforts instead.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she wants to “leave it up to the military on the timing of the drawdown of the troops.” But “by changing the mission, you’re paving the way for a significant but gradual drawdown of our troops.”

A Senate vote is expected next week. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she will call for a vote on a similar measure by the end of this week.