- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 23, 2006

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — President Bush said yesterday that the United States reached a “milestone toward our victory in Iraq” when Iraqi leaders agreed on a prime minister-designate, and he called the country’s three top leaders to tell them they now “have responsibilities to defeat the terrorists.”

Speaking to Marines in Twentynine Palms, Calif., Mr. Bush said he telephoned President Jalal Talabani, Prime Minister-designate Jawad al-Maliki and parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani to tell them that “they have an awesome responsibility” to prove they can unite and govern their nation.

Late last week, Mr. al-Maliki was given the job of forming a coalition government.

Democrats and some Republicans have called for Mr. Bush to push the Iraqis harder to gain control of their country, with some such as Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, telling him to set a deadline for pulling out U.S. troops. That, the politicians said, would force Iraqi leaders to take over responsibilities.

“Our large presence of troops feeds the insurgency and delays the Iraqis standing up for themselves. So get tough, set a timetable and push them,” Mr. Kerry said yesterday on ABC’s “This Week.”

Mr. Bush said four times that Iraqis now have responsibilities they must meet: to fight the terrorists, to improve the lives of their countrymen and to unite their country.

A new government in Iraq would be a big boost for Mr. Bush, who has said success in that country requires economic advancement, trained local security forces and a central government. In a recent series of speeches on Iraq, he talked about progress in training security forces but seemed disappointed with the pace of leaders trying to negotiate a new government.

Mr. al-Maliki still must form a government that shares power among the various factions, and Mr. Bush yesterday urged him “to get a Cabinet in place quickly,” said outgoing White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

Speaking to Marines and their families during lunch at the mess hall at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., Mr. Bush said the Iraqi leaders “expressed their deep appreciation for the United States of America and our soldiers.”

“They understand the sacrifices that you are making on their behalf,” he said.

Mr. Bush also said the only way to lose in Iraq would be for Americans to lose their nerve.

“I’m not losing my nerve, and I know that the United States Marine Corps will not lose their nerve, either,” he said.

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