Bush finds optimism in mixed U.S. report on Iraq

U.S. President George W. Bush hailed a lukewarm report on Iraq's progress as "a cause for optimism," while the House of Representatives used the document as justification to vote against the war.

U.S. President George W. Bush hailed a lukewarm report on Iraq's progress as "a causefor optimism" on Thursday,while the House of Representatives usedthe 23-page documentas justification to vote against the war.

U.S. President George W. Bush speaks during a news conference Thursday. ((Ron Edmonds/Associated Press) )

Within hours of the report's release on Thursday, the Democratic-controlled House voted 223-201 in favour of legislation calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by April 1, 2008. Bush is expected to veto the measure.

"The report makes clear that not even the White House can conclude there has been significant progress," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California,said during the vote.

The report reviews the Iraqi government's political, economic and military progress.

Out of 18 political and security goals, the U.S. report found that Baghdad was making "unsatisfactory" progress on eight objectives set by the American government.

However, it also said Baghdad's progress towards meeting eight other benchmarks was "satisfactory."

The remaining two goals yielded mixed results.

Shortly after the report's release, Bush emphasized the positive aspect at a press conference at the White House.

"Those who believe the battle in Iraq is lost will likely point to the unsatisfactory performance on some of the benchmarks," Bush said. "Those of us who believe the mission in Iraq can and must be won see the satisfactory [results] as a cause for optimism."

But the report found that overall, the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad has not achieved any major objectives considered necessary to eliminate sectarian violence in the region.

It acknowledges Iraq has made some positive gains and met some targets to crack down on violence and boost security, such as establishing security stations around Baghdad. But the review also cites the government's failure when it comes to enacting long-promised legislation, such as laws to divide the nation's oil revenues.

Full progress report due in September

Bush said he remained dedicated to the mission, however, and promised the longer-term political goals could be achieved afterU.S.military pressureroots out extremists in the region.

"Progress on security will pave the way for political progress," Bushsaid. "So it's not surprisingthat political progress is lagging behind the security gains we are seeing."

Bush also took on a wait-and-see attitude,frequently referring to the fact the report was written "a little less than a month after the full complement of troops arrived."

Its release on Thursday also comes ahead of a full report, due in mid-September,on Iraqi progress after the U.S. troop "surge" strategy. Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military general in Iraq, will present that broader review. The president said he would like to wait until then before making final decisions on what course to take on Iraq.

The report's findings come as both houses of Congress are sharply divided over the next course in the nearly 4½-year-old war, fraying Republican unity on Capitol Hill and fuelling Democratic efforts to force troop withdrawals.

Moreopposition amid mounting deaths

Public opinion polls show Americans' ever-deepening opposition to the war in Iraq amid a climbing U.S. casualty count 16 months before the 2008 elections.

Bush has said it is too early to assess the effect the troop surge has had in stabilizing Iraq.

Also Thursday, the leader of Iraq's largest Shia political party said he will stand by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and urged Sunnis not to abandon the political process, promising serious efforts to solve any problem angering them.

Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim's written comments were received by the Associated Press on Thursday in response to questions sent to him last week. The leader of the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq is in Iran for cancer treatment.

Al-Maliki's coalition has been weakened by a Sunni Arab boycott and wrangling over political benchmarks that the United States is pushing the prime minister to pass.

Some Sunni politicians have called for removing al-Maliki, calling him biased toward his fellow Shias.

With files from the Associated Press