- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2007

President Bush, who will announce a new strategy for the Iraq war next week, spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for nearly two hours yesterday, and said last night that he had been trying to determine whether Mr. al-Maliki “has the will necessary to do the hard work to protect his people.”

“I told him, I said that you show the will, we will help you,” Mr. Bush said in a brief White House press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “I believe Prime Minister Maliki has the will necessary to make the tough decisions. That’s one of the things I learned today.”

Mr. Bush said he was “in the process of making up my final decision as to what to recommend” on a way forward in Iraq, where more than 3,000 U.S. troops have died since the war began in March 2003.

“I’ll be ready to outline a strategy that will help the Iraqis achieve the objective of a country that can govern, sustain and defend itself sometime next week,” Mr. Bush said. “I’ve still got consultations to go through. Whatever decision I make, though, will be all aimed at achieving our objectives.”

Mrs. Merkel, who will wield extraordinary clout among European leaders as she is simultaneously president of the European Union and host of the Group of Eight summit, said she will urge her neighbors to support efforts to stabilize Iraq.

“Allow me to say although Germany is not militarily present in Iraq, we have every interest in seeing Iraq taking a turn for a more peaceful development where people no longer need to be in fear of their lives, and that politically we shall do everything we can in order to give support to such a positive development,” she said through a translator.

Mr. Bush next week is expected to order a “surge” — a short-term increase of U.S. troops — in Iraq, and the White House said yesterday that the president and Mr. al-Maliki agreed on the need to call in enough military to quell the sectarian violence that has spiraled out of control.

The two leaders spoke by secure video conference, with about half of the conversation limited to the president and prime minister and their translators, press secretary Tony Snow said.

The top generals in the Army and the Marine Corps have said recently that any increase of troops needs to be coupled with a well-defined strategy to secure and stabilize Iraq. Mr. Bush said yesterday that is precisely what he will demand.

“One thing is for certain: I will want to make sure that the mission is clear and specific and can be accomplished,” he said.

Mr. Bush also said he wished the execution of Saddam Hussein “had gone in a more dignified way,” but noted that the deposed Iraqi dictator “was given justice; the thousands of people he killed were not.”

Shortly after Saddam was hanged last week, a video appeared on the Internet showing him being taunted before his execution. The video has sparked a firestorm across the Middle East and in Washington, where reporters have questioned the White House daily about it.

“One thing is for certain: A horrific chapter in Iraqi history has been closed. And now we’re talking about a more hopeful chapter for the Iraqi people,” Mr. Bush said.

The president, who met for more than an hour with Mrs. Merkel and discussed matters such as global trade, the genocide in Darfur, the environment, Lebanon, Iran and the war in Afghanistan, praised the German chancellor for her support of a strong U.N. Security Council resolution to punish Iran for continuing its uranium-enrichment program.

“It was an important message to send Iran that the free world wants there to be a peaceful future, and we don’t see a peaceful future with the Iranians developing a nuclear weapon,” he said.

The short press conference in the Cross Hall of the White House ended on a humorous note. After shaking hands with the German leader, Mr. Bush smiled impishly and said, “No back rubs,” a reference to criticism he received when he briefly massaged her shoulders last year at a G-8 meeting in St. Petersburg. The chancellor smiled, and the two headed off to dinner.

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