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Bush: Iraq benchmarks report 'cause for optimism'

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  • NEW: House votes 223-201 to require a troop withdrawal from Iraq by April 2008
  • "There's war fatigue in America," Bush says, "this is an ugly war"
  • Bush sending Defense chief Gates, Secretary of State Rice to region
  • Iraq benchmarks: 8 satisfactory, 8 unsatisfactory, 2 mixed, officials say
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A report on U.S.-set benchmarks for Iraq shows "satisfactory progress" in eight areas, while highlighting that there's "more work to do" in other areas, President Bush said Thursday.

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President Bush says Iraqis have "not done enough to prepare for local elections or pass a law to share in oil revenues."

"Of the 18 benchmarks Congress asked us to measure, we can report that satisfactory progress is being made in eight areas," Bush said during a White House news conference.

Iraqis "have provided the three brigades they promised for operations in and around Baghdad," said the president. However, Iraqis have "not done enough to prepare for local elections or pass a law to share in oil revenues."

Bush also announced he's dispatching Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the Middle East next month to use "the tools of diplomacy to strengthen regional and international support for Iraq's democratic government."

The pair will meet with allies and reiterate the U.S. commitment to the International Compact with Iraq, which was put together in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in May, Bush said. Video Watch Bush discuss fellow Republicans who disagree with his war strategy »

"Those of us who believe the battle in Iraq can and must be won see the satisfactory performance on several of the security benchmarks as a cause for optimism," Bush told reporters. "Our strategy is built on the premise that progress in security will pave the way for political progress, so it's not surprising that political progress is lagging behind the security gains we're seeing."

Facing pressure from Democrats and members of his own party to move toward a pullout of U.S. forces in Iraq, Bush said he will make further decisions after September's report from Gen. David Petreaus, the top American commander in Iraq.

On Thursday afternoon, the Democratically controled House of Representatives voted 223-201 to require most U.S. troops to leave Iraq by April 1, 2008.

President Bush vowed again Thursday to veto any legislation that would estabish a timetable for troop withdrawal from Iraq.

"The president is pleading for more patience," said CNN White House correspondent Ed Henry. "He's not really offering a new prescription to deal with the violence on the ground in Iraq. Instead he's urging lawmakers to give him until September to see if the current troop increase will work -- but a growing number of his fellow Republicans are telling him time is running out and they want a course change sooner than September."

After Bush spoke, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid accused Bush of a strategy "to keep our troops in an open-ended war -- a civil war in Iraq."

The Nevada Democrat said he was "calling on my Republican colleagues to not just say the right thing but to vote the right way so we can give our troops the strategy they deserve."

So far, three Republicans have signed on as co-sponsors of a Democratic-authored Senate amendment aimed at pulling combat troops out of Iraq by April. Some GOP senators told Bush's top national security aide Wednesday they were unwilling to wait until September to discuss changes in war strategy.

During his news conference the president commented on the nation's psyche, declaring, "There's war fatigue in America. It's affecting our psychology. I understand that. This is an ugly war. It's a war in which an enemy will kill innocent men, women and children in order to achieve a political objective. It doesn't surprise me that there is deep concern amongst our people."

Henry said, "I've never heard the president use the phrase 'war fatigue.' That's significant."

Bush also drew a picture of his war-planning options amid a wave of sectarian and insurgent violence, continued casualties of U.S. forces and an Iraqi government that the report said is struggling to reconcile the fractious nation's many cultural differences.

"You know, I've got to decide whether or not it's OK for that violence to continue or whether or not it makes sense for us to try to send more troops in to quell the violence, to give the reconciliation process further time to advance," said Bush. "My concern is that, as a result of violence and killing, there would be chaos."

The president touted successes in Iraq's violent Anbar province, a Sunni-dominated region which he said had been "considered lost" and "because of what we call bottom-up reconciliation, Anbar province has changed dramatically."

An anti-al Qaeda element of Sunni tribesmen has emerged, Bush said.

There is progress in Diyala province, where there is a big push against insurgents, the president said. And, he said, "there are neighborhoods in Baghdad where violence is down."

Two senior Republican senators, John Warner of Virginia and Richard Lugar of Indiana, are expected to introduce a plan refocusing the U.S. mission in Iraq toward counterterrorism and training Iraqi forces. Both men have been breaking from Bush's current war strategy, while remaining opposed to specific deadlines for troop withdrawal.

Bush said Thursday that the idea is "a position I'd like to see us in."

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"There's a lot of discussion about a scenario in which our troop posture would be to guard the territorial integrity of the country of Iraq, to embed and train, to help the Iraqi security forces deal with violent elements in their society, as well as keep enough special forces there to chase down al Qaeda," the president said.

But Bush added, "I don't think Congress ought to be running the war. I think they ought to be funding our troops." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Ed Henry and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

All About Iraq WarWar and ConflictGeorge W. Bush

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