- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 9, 2007

President Bush today said Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government has underperformed, but he remained hopeful that the Shi’ite leader can unite warring factions.

“They have made some progress, but not enough,” Mr. Bush said during a White House press conference before he left town for most of the month. “We’re watching leaders learn how to be leaders. This is a new process for people to be democratic leaders.”

He said the Iraqi parliament “has not passed some of the laws we expected them to pass up to now,” especially one that would mandate the sharing of oil revenues more fairly throughout Iraq’s provinces.

However, the president said the parliament has passed about 60 laws, some oil revenue sharing is occurring, and people will judge Iraq“s progress based on whether they think it is worth it for the United States to be in Iraq.

“For those of us who believe it’s worth it, we’ll see progress, and for those who don’t believe it’s worth it, there won’t be progress,” Mr. Bush said.

He restated his belief that Iraq is central to the war on terrorism and said that is why U.S. troops need to stay there long enough for the nation’s leaders to pass key measures and for the country to stabilize.

“What has made the stakes so high is that those forces of murder and intolerance have shown they have the capacity to murder innocent people in our own country,” he said.

Mr. Bush faces another showdown with the Democratic-controlled Congress in September, when a report is due from the U.S. ambassador to Iraq and the top U.S. military commander there.

Democrats in the spring passed an emergency war-spending bill that included a deadline to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, but Mr. Bush vetoed that bill and faced down further challenges from Congress to set a pullout date.

Mr. Bush also faced questions today about Mr. Maliki“s relationship with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The two leaders met in Tehran today and were photographed strolling hand in hand down the halls of a government building.

The president said he was not “surprised that there is a picture showing people smiling.” Mr. Bush did, however, allow for the possibility that Mr. Maliki may not see eye to eye with the United States on Iran’s role in Iraq.

U.S. military and diplomatic leaders have stepped up charges in recent weeks that Iranian forces are supplying weapons and training to militia forces hostile to the United States.

“If the signal is that Iran is constructive, I will have to have a heart-to-heart with my friend the prime minister, because I don’t believe they are constructive,” Mr. Bush said. “I don’t think he in his heart of hearts thinks they’re constructive, either.”