WASHINGTON - Iraq has achieved only limited military and political progress toward a democratic society, the Bush administration said Thursday in a report that became prelude to a House vote on ordering a U.S. troop withdrawal by spring.
'The security situation in Iraq remains complex and extremely challenging' the report concluded. The economic picture is uneven, it said, and the government has not yet enacted vital political reconciliation legislation.
As many as 80 suicide bombers per month cross into the country from Syria, added the interim assessment, which is to be followed by Gen. David Petraeus' fuller accounting in September.
'I believe we can succeed in Iraq, and I know we must,' President Bush said at a White House news conference at which he stressed the interim nature of the report.
Describing a document produced by his administration at Congress' insistence, he said there was satisfactory progress by the Iraqi government toward meeting eight of 18 so-called benchmarks, unsatisfactory progress on eight more and mixed results on the others.
To his critics - including an increasing number of Republicans - he said bluntly, 'I don't think Congress ought to be running the war. I think they ought to be funding the troops.'
Democrats saw it differently.
A few hours after Bush's remarks, the House plunged into debate over legislation requiring the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops to begin within 120 days, and to be completed by April 1, 2008. The measure envisions a limited residual force to train Iraqis, protect U.S. assets and fight al-Qaida and other terrorists.
Passage of the measure was not in doubt - only the number of Republicans who might break with Bush and support a bill he has vowed to veto.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., set the tone. 'After nearly five years of a failed policy in Iraq, we have a duty not just to voice our opposition, but to vote today to end the war,' she said.
The 25-page administration report was issued in the fifth year of a war that has claimed the lives of more than 3,600 U.S. troops and is costing U.S. taxpayers an estimated $10 billion a month.
Bush announced last winter he was ordering thousands of additional troops to the war zone, but the full complement has only arrived in recent weeks. 'The full surge in this respect has only just begun,' the report said.
The president sampled the report at his nationally televised session with reporters.
'Iraqis have provided the three brigades they promised for operations in and around Baghdad. And the Iraqi government is spending nearly $7.3 billion from its own funds this year to train, equip and modernize its forces,' he said.
But in other areas, he added, they 'have much more work to do. For example, they've not done enough to prepare for local elections or pass a law to share oil revenues.'