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Republican unity fraying on Iraq war

Associated Press | July 12, 2007
ANNE FLAHERTY

WASHINGTON - Republican unity is fraying on the long war in Iraq, not to mention civility.

"Wimps," House Republican leader John Boehner calls GOP defectors in the Senate a growing breed as public opinion polls chart ever-deepening opposition to the war and a climbing U.S. casualty count 16 months before the 2008 elections.

With both houses of Congress debating war-related legislation, lawmakers awaited the Bush administration's assessment Thursday of political, economic and military progress made by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government.

Administration officials said in advance the report concludes that the Iraqis have failed to pass long-promised laws that the administration has called key to national cohesion and economic recovery, such as legislation that would fairly divide Iraq's oil resources.

But officials said the report also would show progress in several areas, such as a drop in sectarian killings in Baghdad and opposition to al-Qaida terrorists by tribal sheiks in Anbar province.

Predictably, Democrats say the findings are proof the war effort is failing, while Republicans say the limited progress shows hope and that lawmakers should not lose faith.

Boehner, R-Ohio, made his "wimps" remark in a private meeting Wednesday with rank-and-file Republicans ironically at nearly the same moment that several GOP senators beseeched the White House without apparent success for a quick change in course on Iraq.

"I'm hopeful they (White House officials) change their minds," Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said after a meeting that President Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, held with several Republicans in the Capitol.

Domenici and several other GOP members, including Sens. Richard Lugar of Indiana and George Voinovich of Ohio, say they want Bush to begin reducing the military's role in Iraq. In the meeting, Hadley said Bush wants to wait until September when Gen. David Petraeus, the Iraq war commander, will reassess military progress.

Emboldened by the Republican divide, Democrats called for a vote on legislation to end U.S. combat operations next year. The House planned to vote first on Thursday.

Boehner spokesman Brian Kennedy said the lawmaker's comments "were intended to illustrate the fact that we just recently voted to give the troops our full support including ample time for the Petraeus plan to work, and that too much is at stake for Congress to renege on its commitment now by approving what can only be described as another partisan stunt by Democrats."

A senior U.S. official familiar with the report's conclusions said it would assess Iraq's progress toward congressional benchmarks in three main categories: completed, partially completed and those that show limited or no progress.

Most of the bigger and more difficult issues, the ones that the Bush administration has said were key to Iraq's national cohesion and economic future, likely would fall into the partially completed category, the official said. One major exception was the expectation that Iraq's government would pass a law redressing the effects of a policy to purge Baath Party members following Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's ouster during the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. There has been almost no progress on that goal.

The official said the Iraqi government would get a passing grade on a few of the military benchmarks that demonstrate its cooperation with Bush's troop buildup this spring.

"It's going to be a mixed picture," the official said.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the report was not yet public.

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