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Iraq: Bush, Blair Acknowledge Mistakes, But Vow To Stay On

  • Nikola Krastev

http://gdb.rferl.org/3E96E4BF-7051-43F9-8E39-55689BC71F7A_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/3E96E4BF-7051-43F9-8E39-55689BC71F7A_mw800_mh600.jpg Bush and Blair in Washington on May 25 (epa) WASHINGTON, May 26, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- In a joint press conference at the White House on May 25, U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair admitted they've made costly mistakes in the Iraq war, but nevertheless remain determined to bring the process of democratization of the country to its conclusion.

Bush said that despite what he called setbacks and missteps in Iraq, he believed the United States and Great Britain did the right thing by invading Iraq in March 2003. He said the Abu Ghurayb prison-abuse scandal had marked the "biggest mistake" made by the United States so far.

Mistakes Were Made

"We've been paying for that for a long period of time," Bush added. "Unlike Iraq, however, under Saddam [Hussein], the people who committed those acts [abuse] were brought to justice. They've been given a fair trial, tried, and convicted."

Bush said he also regretted some statements he has made, such as when he challenged Iraqi insurgents to "bring on" their attacks.

For his part, Blair said the "de-Ba'athification" of Iraq -- that is, the clearing out of Saddam Hussein followers -- could have been handled differently.
"Remember, a lot of the attacks are now happening not on the
multinational force but actually on the Iraqi forces themselves, on
their police, on their army, and so on. And the purpose of that, of
course, is to deter them from the buildup of capability that we want to
see." -- Blair


"We could've done de-Ba'athification in a more differentiated way than we did," he said. "The most difficult thing, however, has been the determination of people to move against the democratic process in Iraq in a way that, I think, indicates our opponents very clear view, from a very early stage, that they had to stop the democratic process working."

Blair also said he expects the biggest threat to newly trained Iraqi police units to come in the next few months:

"Progressively, there will be more and more parts of Iraq that are policed by the Iraqi security forces themselves," he said. "But I also think you will find, probably over the next few months, there will be a real attempt by the antidemocratic forces to test them very, very strongly. Remember, a lot of the attacks are now happening not on the multinational force but actually on the Iraqi forces themselves, on their police, on their army, and so on. And the purpose of that, of course, is to deter them from the buildup of capability that we want to see."

'Complete The Mission'

Bush and Blair vowed to keep U.S. and British forces in Iraq until the new Iraqi government is capable of taking over security duties. Neither leader gave any timetable for a significant withdrawal of troops.

"Listen, I want our troops out, don't get me wrong," Bush said. "I understand what it means to have troops in harm's way. There's a lot of families making huge sacrifices here in America. I'll be going to a Memorial Day ceremony next Monday [May 29] paying tribute to those who've lost their life. I'm sure I'll see families of the fallen. I fully understand the pressures being placed upon our military and their families. But I also understand that it is vital that we do the job, that we complete the mission. And it's been tough."

Incentives Vs. Isolation In Iran

Turning to Iran, Bush said the United States could consider providing incentives if Tehran first agrees to halt uranium-enrichment work. He said it was up to Iran to decide whether it wants to remain isolated by the world community because of its nuclear program.

"The Iranians walked away from the table," he said. "And I think we ought to be continuing to work on ways to make it clear to them that they will be isolated. And one way to do that is to continue to work together through the United Nations Security [Council]. If they [Iran] suspend [enrichment] and have the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] in there, making sure that the suspension is real, then of course we'll talk about ways forward, incentives."

Bush reiterated that he hoped to resolve the dispute diplomatically.

Bush's comments came as the United States, Britain, Russia, China, France, and Germany have been seeking agreement on a package of incentives and possible sanctions that could be presented to Iran in a bid to persuade Tehran to halt enrichment.
RFE/RL Iraq Report


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