Administration plays down report on Iraq benchmarks

Report lists what it describes as evidence that some benchmarks represent "lagging indicators" of real progress.

The White House on Friday downplayed a report mandated by Congress showing the Iraqi government is making satisfactory progress on only half of 18 benchmarks established in January, saying some objectives are being achieved even if the benchmarks themselves technically are not.

The ratings are nearly the same as in an initial assessment released in July. Of the 18 benchmarks, Iraq has made satisfactory progress on nine and unsatisfactory progress on seven; two were not rated because the "necessary preconditions" for doing so have not been reached.

One benchmark -- whether the government has made satisfactory progress on de-Baathification reform legislation, was upgraded since July from unsatisfactory to satisfactory even though that legislation was not passed. Iraqi factions have reached agreement on draft de-Baathification legislation, and more than 45,000 former Baathist soldiers have been granted pensions or restored to active duty, the report notes.

The report lists what it describes as evidence that some benchmarks represent "lagging indicators" of real progress.

While Iraq received a failing grade for progress on an oil revenue sharing law, "significant oil revenues are being distributed by the central government to the provinces in an equitable manner," the report states. And while there has not been satisfactory progress toward a provincial powers law, "the provincial governors and councils are making decisions on budget expenditures through engagement with the central government . . . and are providing essential services for their constituents."

Many of the benchmarks describing military objectives are being achieved satisfactorily, according to the report. It also advocates patience with Iraq on political reconciliation. "Reconciliation in a society marked by nearly four decades of dictatorship will not be linear and will take time, patience, and support from the international community," the report states.

The report leaves congressional Democrats in a tough position. With few viable options beyond what has already been attempted, the Senate is expected to vote again next week on an amendment from Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., requiring active-duty troops to spend as much time at home as time deployed.

House Democrats have yet to decide a course of action. Democratic leadership aides said that House efforts will, at least in part, continue to take advantage of the less than ideal political situation for Republicans.

"I find it hard to believe that next spring, six months out from an election when there has been no change and we will have 150,000 troops there, that they [Republicans] are not going to be feeling a lot of heat," said a senior Democratic leadership aide. "We will continue to put votes on the floor to show Republican constituents where they are standing, which is with Bush and staying the course, and we have to make decisions about how to deal with the [war] funding."

Christian Bourge contributed to this report.

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