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Bush asks for more time
President Bush yesterday said that he realizes that the American people are suffering from “war fatigue” but that the U.S. military must stay in Iraq long enough to give fighting Iraqi factions a chance to reconcile politically, or Iraq will become a haven for terrorists and will destabilize the region.
“The best way to begin bringing them home is to make sure our new strategy succeeds,” said Mr. Bush, who released an interim report to Congress on progress by the Iraqi government and military in meeting key benchmarks.
Mr. Bush, speaking at a press conference to explain the report, tried to rebut criticisms that he is stubbornly resisting the wishes of most Americans to get U.S. troops out of Iraq. This conflict was reiterated yesterday in a House vote to order an American pullout, which passed but not by a sufficient margin to override a Bush veto.
“Sometimes the debate over Iraq is cast as a disagreement between those who want to keep our troops in Iraq and those who want to bring our troops home, and this is not the real debate,” Mr. Bush said. “The real debate … is between those who think the fight is lost or not worth the cost and those who believe the fight can be won and that as difficult as the fight is, the cost of defeat would be far higher.
Mr. Bush said that a “precipitous withdrawal” would allow al Qaeda in Iraq to launch operations from Iraq, while also plunging the country into sectarian killings “on a horrific scale” and allowing a hostile Iran to have greater influence in the region.
The president’s interim report said the Iraqis have made “satisfactory” progress on about half of 18 benchmarks, while making “unsatisfactory” progress on the other half. A lack of progress by Iraqi politicians in passing political reconciliation laws and in rooting out sectarian influence among the national police accounts for most of the missed benchmarks.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shi’ite, has been unable to bring the dominant Shi’ite faction together with Sunni and Kurdish factions to pass key provisions and stop sectarian violence.
However, Mr. Bush said that it is “not surprising that political progress is lagging behind the security gains we are seeing.”
“Our strategy is built on the premise that progress on security will pave the way for political progress,” Mr. Bush said.
“There has been a slight reduction in units assessed as capable of independent operations since January 2007,” the report said.
Some Middle East scholars said the White House report was overly optimistic in its assessment of benchmarks reached.
“The Iraqi government has not really met the Bush administration’s benchmarks in any major area,” said Anthony Cordesman, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
In addition, a draft of the upcoming National Intelligence Estimate says al Qaeda is gaining increased capabilities to sneak operatives into the U.S. and is planning attacks from its base of operations on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, according to the Associated Press.
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