- The Washington Times - Friday, June 24, 2005

President Bush yesterday rejected calls from Congress to set a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, reassuring Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari that the United States will remain in the war-torn nation until the mission is complete.

Making his first visit to the White House, Mr. Jaafari effusively praised Americans for their efforts to establish freedom and democracy in Iraq, saying in an East Room press conference that “you have given us something more than money — you have given us a lot of your sons, your children that were killed beside our own children in Iraq.”

“Of course this is more precious than any other kind of support we receive,” said Iraq’s first freely elected prime minister since the U.S.-led coalition ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

A small group of congressmen, including one conservative who voted for the war in Iraq, last week introduced a resolution calling for the beginning of troop withdrawal from Iraq by Oct. 1, 2006. But despite flagging poll numbers among Americans over Iraq, Mr. Bush said yesterday that setting a timetable would be “conceding too much to the enemy.”

“There’s not going to be any timetables,” the president said. “I mean, I’ve told this to the prime minister.”

Mr. Bush did, however, back one timetable that sets out three important dates for Iraq — an Aug. 15 deadline for the Iraqi interim government to finish drafting a constitution; an Oct. 15 deadline for a nationwide referendum on the constitution; and a December deadline to hold elections to pick a new government.

“That’s the timetable,” he said. “And we’re going to stay on that timetable. And it’s important for the Iraqi people to know we are.”

The president, speaking just hours after reports emerged that at least five Marines were killed in a car bomb attack near Fallujah, acknowledged that recent polls show Americans are losing confidence in the war in Iraq.

“There’s no question there’s an enemy that still wants to shake our will and get us to leave,” he said. “…They try to kill and they do kill innocent Iraqi people, women and children because they know that the carnage that they reap will be on TV and they know that it bothers people to see death.

“It bothers me. It bothers American citizens. It bothers Iraqis.”

For his part, Mr. Jaafari called terrorists “enemies of humanity” and encouraged the United States to stay the course in Iraq. “This is not the time to fall back,” he said. “I see from up close what’s happening in Iraq and I know we are making steady and substantial progress.”

The Iraqi leader, who met for more than an hour with Mr. Bush in the Oval Office, assured the president that Iraq can stick to the prescribed timetable. He also took aim at naysayers, saying, “People said Saddam would not fall, and he did. They say the elections would not happen, and they did. They say the constitution will not be written, but it will.”

Mr. Jaafari had a busy few days in Washington. He met Thursday with Vice President Dick Cheney and Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley. He went to the National Archives, where he viewed the U.S. Constitution, met with congressional leaders on Capitol Hill and visited Walter Reed Army Medical Center to express gratitude to U.S. troops wounded in his country.

Meanwhile, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday the president will address the nation Tuesday night in a televised speech to U.S. troops at Fort Bragg, N.C. Mr. Bush will be “very specific about the way forward in Iraq,” the spokesman said.

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