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Iraq: Bush Says U.S. Withdrawal Not Dependent On Complete End To Violence

  • Andrew Tully

http://gdb.rferl.org/D1A2EF81-E488-42F7-B494-4EBAD74DB8E1_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/D1A2EF81-E488-42F7-B494-4EBAD74DB8E1_mw800_mh600.jpg George Bush at the June 14 press conference (epa) WASHINGTON, June 14, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Following his surprise visit to Iraq on June 13, U.S. President George W. Bush faced reporters at the White House in a news conference devoted almost entirely to the war.

Bush said that the killing on June 7 of Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, provided U.S. troops with intelligence that has led to successful U.S. and Iraqi raids against insurgents.

But Bush stressed that it would be unrealistic to expect a complete end to the violence before the United States begins withdrawing some of its troops. Still, he stressed that he isn't ready to set any timetables for a pullout.

"Obviously, the [U.S.-led military coalition] raids aren't going to end terrorism," he said. "I understand that, the American people understand that, and the Iraqi people understand that, but the terrorists are vulnerable, and we will strike their network and disrupt their operations, and continue to bring their leaders to justice."

Enough Troops?

There are now about 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Some critics say they aren't enough to pacify the country, and others say it's time to begin withdrawing them from what they characterize as an ill-conceived war.

Bush said that, based on the advice of his military commanders in Iraq, that force strength is appropriate for helping the new Iraqi government and its own armed forces to become strong enough to take over defense responsibilities.

The president was asked about a recent comment that "the tide has turned" in Iraq, indicating that the country's fortunes had changed dramatically for the better. Bush replied that the statement may have been prematurely optimistic. Instead, he said, it would be better to say that "progress would be steady."

Security In Baghdad

Bush also pointed to a new security regime that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki began in Baghdad today to begin securing the capital and other parts of the country.

During talks in Baghdad on June 13, Bush said, al-Maliki described that as part of an overall strategy for Iraq that includes initiatives on economics and foreign policy. Bush said he was impressed.

"The [Iraqi] prime minister briefed us on the immediate steps he has taken in three key areas -- to improve security, to build up the Iraqi economy so the Iraqi people can see real economic progress, and he is reaching out to the international community to help secure support for this new government," Bush said.

Too Early To Close Guantanamo

On the broader conflict against Islamist militants, Bush was asked about the recent suicides by three prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and calls by some U.S. allies and human rights organizations that the detention camp be closed.

Bush replied that he'd very much like to close Guantanamo, but said it would be wrong to do so as long as it holds people he described as "darn dangerous."

Again, Bush expressed disappointment over the abuse of prisoners at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. But he stressed that only rogue soldiers were responsible, and said the vast majority of U.S. servicemen and -women are honorable.

One reporter asked Bush about his decision to fly into Iraq so secretly that even al-Maliki didn't know he was present until a few minutes before the two men met. The questioner noted that Iraq is a sovereign nation, and that it would be unthinkable for a foreign leader to arrive in the United States without notifying the White House.

Bush replied simply that Iraq is a dangerous place, and that he would have been what's known as a "high-value target" for Iraq's insurgents.
Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi

Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi(undated AFP file photo)

COMMITTED TO TERROR: Jordan-born Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi has been among the most visible and ruthless leaders of Iraq's post-Saddam Hussein insurgency. In a tape released earlier this month, al-Zaqawi called on Iraqi Sunnis to fight against Shi'a and labeled Shi'ite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani an "atheist."
Insurgents loyal to Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Al-Qaeda-affiliated organization have regained control over much of Al-Anbar Governorate, and are posing a major challenge to U.S. and Iraqi forces. A local security force established by tribesmen under an agreement with the U.S. military has all but ceased operating, after nearly a dozen tribal leaders were assassinated in revenge attacks by insurgents loyal to al-Zarqawi's Mujahedin Shura Council since January. Local tribal leaders now say they are afraid to be seen associating with U.S. forces, lest they be targeted by insurgents....(more)


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THE COMPLETE PICTURE: Click on the image to see RFE/RL's complete coverage of events in Iraq and that country's ongoing transition.

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