White House faults Iraqi leaders
(Reuters) A day after President George W. Bush cited enough progress in Iraq to justify U.S. troop reductions, the White House told Congress on Friday that Iraqi leaders had failed to meet half of their key goals.
The administration's acknowledgment of shortfalls in the Iraqi government's performance underscored the challenges Bush faces in selling his strategy to skeptical Democratic lawmakers and an American public increasingly opposed to the war.
In a report ordered by Congress, the White House concluded the Iraqis had made satisfactory progress on just nine of 18 political and security benchmarks and unsatisfactory progress in seven. It said it was unable to rate two other targets.
Democrats in control of Congress had insisted on a review of Iraqi efforts to achieve national reconciliation as a condition for continued funding for a buildup of U.S. forces intended to help curb sectarian violence.
As Bush and top aides kept up a public relations push to rally support for his Iraq strategy, the White House played down the negative side of the latest status report and pointed instead to what it described as encouraging signs.
But House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer accused the administration of "attempting to paint a far rosier picture of Iraqi progress on key benchmarks than is justified by the reality on the ground."
The report followed a televised prime-time address by Bush on Thursday night in which he embraced recommendations by his top commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus , for a limited withdrawal of about 20,000 troops by July.