- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 14, 2006

2:10 p.m.

President Bush, back from a visit to Iraq, said today violence there will never be eliminated but that a security crackdown and new intelligence on terrorism are contributing to “steady progress.”

In a Rose Garden news conference barely more than six hours after his return from Baghdad, a buoyant Mr. Bush insisted that U.S. troops will remain there until Iraqi forces can do the job on their own.

Also, though he said he recognized that calls for bringing home many of the 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq would increase as the November elections draw nearer, he warned that pulling out too soon would “make the world a more dangerous place. It’s bad policy.”

Mr. Bush said he assured worried Iraqi leaders during his 5 1/2-hour visit yesterday that he would not bow to political pressure and bring troops home prematurely.

“If we stand down too soon, it won’t enable us to achieve our objectives,” the president said. He said those goals include an Iraq that can govern, sustain and defend itself.

The president said that any expectation of “zero violence” in Iraq was unreasonable. “That’s not going to happen,” Mr. Bush said.

However, he also said that Iraqi and coalition forces were stepping up their activities against insurgents, in part by using new intelligence gathered in raids following the killing of top Iraqi terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi last week.

“We got new intelligence from those raids which will enable us to keep the pressure on the foreigners and the local Iraqis who are killing innocent lives,” he said.

The president also said that a crackdown in Baghdad ordered by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which commenced today, offered the promise of reducing the violence that has plagued the Iraqi capital.

That crackdown sent tens of thousands of Iraqi police and soldiers patrolling Iraqi streets, searching cars and securing roads.

With Mr. al-Maliki’s new unity government in place, “The progress will be steady toward a goal that has clearly been defined,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush’s lightning trip was cloaked in extreme secrecy and security. Just a few top aides knew about the trip ahead of time — not even most members of his Cabinet were informed of it.

As Mr. Bush left Baghdad, his plane sat in total darkness on the runway and lifted off with no running lights. Air Force One had not been completely refueled so that it could get up high faster. As a result, a refueling stop was required en route to Washington, and it was nearing dawn today when Mr. Bush made it back to the White House.

Mr. Bush defended the tactics, including not even telling Mr. al-Maliki about the visit until just five minutes before Mr. Bush and the Iraqi prime minister met in Baghdad.

“It’s a security concern because I’m a high-value target for some,” Mr. Bush said. “Iraq’s a dangerous place.”

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