- The Washington Times - Monday, April 24, 2006

IRVINE, Calif. — President Bush said yesterday that terrorists are waiting for the United States to withdraw from Iraq and that victory there will be a defeat for al Qaeda.

“A victory in Iraq will be a major blow to the totalitarian vision of [Osama] bin Laden and his lieutenants — a major blow,” Mr. Bush said, a day after bin Laden — in a new audiotape broadcast — urged his followers to prepare for a drawn-out conflict.

Mr. Bush said he made some tactical mistakes in Iraq by focusing on major rebuilding projects and expecting a greater danger from an external army rather than internal forces, but he insisted he made the right decision to send troops into Afghanistan and Iraq.

He said the troop level he chose was based on consultations with Gen. Tommy Franks, and that Gen. Franks said “exactly” what he thought. Gen. Franks has since retired.

For the third day in a row, Mr. Bush touted Iraqi leaders’ agreement last week on a prime minister-designate, calling it a milestone.

He called the president, prime minister-designate and speaker of parliament over the weekend, and said yesterday that they were committed to the same goals.

“Each one of them said, ‘We want to have a national unity government. We’re sick of the sectarian violence. We believe if you stand with us, we can achieve our objective of becoming a democracy that listens to the people,’” Mr. Bush said at the town-hall style gathering in Irvine.

In bin Laden’s audiotaped remarks, which were delivered to the Arabic news channel Al Jazeera and confirmed as authentic by the White House, the al Qaeda leader echoed Mr. Bush, saying the center of the terrorist conflict is Iraq.

“The epicentre of these wars is Baghdad, the seat of the khalifate rule. They keep reiterating that success in Baghdad will be success for the U.S., failure in Iraq the failure of the U.S.,” bin Laden said, according to an English translation from Al Jazeera.

“Their defeat in Iraq will mean defeat in all their wars and a beginning to the receding of their Zionist-Crusader tide against us,” the translation said.

Mr. Bush said he listens when terrorist leaders communicate.

“When the enemy speaks, and they speak quite often, we listen carefully,” he said.

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