Iraq leaders meeting only half of goals - W House

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WASHINGTON, Sep 14 (Reuters) A day after President George W. Bush cited enough progress in Iraq to begin a limited withdrawal of US troops, a White House report today showed Iraqi leaders had performed satisfactorily on only half of their key goals.

The administration's Iraq status report underscored the challenge Bush faces in selling his strategy to skeptical Democratic lawmakers and to an American public increasingly opposed to the war.

The assessment concluded satisfactory progress on only nine of 18 political, security and economic benchmarks that the US Congress had set for the Iraqi government under a buildup of American forces that started earlier this year.

Democrats in control of Congress had insisted on a White House review of efforts to achieve national reconciliation and stability in Iraq as a condition for continued war funding.

In the report, performance was deemed unsatisfactory on seven benchmarks, and the administration said it was unable to fully assess progress on two others.

Trying to secure more time to allow his strategy to work, Bush -- in a televised prime-time address yesterday -- embraced ecommendations by his top commander in Iraq for a limited withdrawal of about 20,000 troops by July.

Bush said security improvements had made it possible to start bringing troops home.

Such a drawdown, criticized by Democratic leaders as insufficient, would bring troop levels close to where they were before Bush ordered a boost in forces in January. There are currently about 169,000 US troops in Iraq.

REUTERS RAR AS2040

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