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Bush Vows To Meet June Deadline For Iraq Power Handover

Prague, 14 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush has pledged to meet a 30 June deadline to hand over power to the Iraqis.

Speaking at a rare news conference in Washington, Bush said failure to meet that deadline would only embolden insurgents and break faith with the Iraqi people.

"This government will do all that is necessary to assure the success of their historic mission. One central commitment of that mission is the transfer of the sovereignty back to the Iraqi people. We have set a deadline of 30 June. It is important that we meet that deadline. As a proud and independent people, Iraqis do not support an indefinite occupation and neither does America, we are not an imperial power," Bush said.

Bush also said Muqtada al-Sadr must disband his militia in Iraq. A revolt by al-Sadr's militiamen this month swept through Shi'ite areas of Baghdad and southern Iraq. U.S. forces are now massed to move against al-Sadr and his militia in Al-Najaf.

Bush also said he is willing to meet the U.S. military's request for more troops in Iraq to contend with rising violence there. He was referring to a suggestion by General John Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the region, that more troops be sent to Iraq.

The American leader said he would keep U.S. forces in Iraq as long as necessary.

John Kerry -- the likely Democratic candidate to face Bush in November's presidential election -- criticized Bush's statements during the press conference. In a statement, Kerry said Bush had failed to propose real solutions to stabilize Iraq, but instead "offered the same hollow rhetoric."

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