- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2008

U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq are being enabled by a successful military and diplomatic campaign, President Bush said yesterday, vowing that this year’s race for the White House will not influence his decisions on force levels.

“The politics of 2008 is not going to enter into my calculation” of whether to continue or accelerate withdrawals, Mr. Bush said in a speech to the National Religious Broadcasters’ Convention in Nashville, Tenn. “It is the peace of the years to come that will enter into my calculation.”

Troops are “not coming home based upon defeat or based upon opinion polls or based upon focus groups or based upon politics,” the president said. “They’re coming home because we’re successful.”

Mr. Bush is expected to give a series of speeches on the topic as the Iraq war enters its sixth year this month. The top U.S. military and diplomatic representatives in Iraq — Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker — will give updates to Congress on April 8 and 9.

Many Republicans hope their party can neutralize the Iraq war as an issue by the November elections.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, is likely to face either Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois or Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York — Democrats who are calling for an end to the war.

Meanwhile, antiwar groups are increasing pressure for a change of course in Iraq.

“Invading Iraq was one of the most morally questionable decisions an American president has made in over a quarter century,” said Chris Korzen, executive director of Catholics United. “Catholics and people of all faiths remain deeply concerned by [Mr. Bush’s] continued failure to bring our troops home in a timely and responsible manner.”

Mr. Korzen’s group called for Mr. Bush to “pray for forgiveness.”

Instead, Mr. Bush defended the war yesterday. “The decision to remove [Iraqi dictator] Saddam Hussein was the right decision early in my presidency, it is the right decision at this point in my presidency, and it will forever be the right decision,” he said.

Mr. Bush also reiterated calls for U.S. allies in Europe to place more troops in heavy combat zones in Afghanistan rather than in areas where the Taliban and al Qaeda pose little resistance.

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