- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 22, 2006

WHEELING, W.Va. — President Bush yesterday said Iraqi politicians must get serious about forming a unity government and begin the job of running the country.

“It’s time,” Mr. Bush said. “It’s time to get a government in place that can start leading this nation and listening to the will of the people.”

Continuing his series of speeches on Iraq and the war on terror, Mr. Bush again praised Iraqis for stepping back from “the abyss” after the bombing of a Shi’ite mosque in Samarra last month.

But he told an audience of 2,000 at the Capitol Music Hall in Wheeling that just yesterday morning he instructed the U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander there, to let the Iraqis know they now must step up.

A delegation of U.S. senators traveling in Iraq earlier this week also told interim Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to get to work on forming a government.

“There’s been too much dawdling while Baghdad is burning,” said Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat. “They have got to decide if they want a nation. They cannot overly rely on us.”

Iraqis went to the polls in December, though the results weren’t certified until last month. Mr. Bush urged Iraqis to move quickly to form a unity government that would share power among the various factions.

“That’s what the people want; otherwise, they wouldn’t have gone to the polls, would they have?” he said.

It was the fifth consecutive day Mr. Bush has spoken on Iraq, beginning with his radio address Saturday and continuing with his statement on the third anniversary of the U.S. invasion Sunday, a war on terror speech Monday and a press conference Tuesday.

Although acknowledging that the U.S. made mistakes initially in its strategy for reconstruction and security, the president has not backed down from his decision to go to war nor his commitment to remain.

“I just got to tell you, I’m not weak and I’m not going to lose my nerve,” he said. “I strongly believe that we’re doing the right thing.”

The White House said most of the tickets to the town hall-style event yesterday were distributed by the local chamber of commerce.

The audience was favorable. A man with two sons in the military told the president, “I thank God you’re our commander in chief.” That drew a standing ovation from the crowd.

Another audience member drew a standing ovation when she blasted the press for not showing positive images that her husband, who she said served 13 months as a military broadcaster in Tikrit, brought back with him.

“It seems that our major media networks don’t want to portray the good,” she said.

Mr. Bush said he respected a free press and that it is his job to talk about progress in Iraq.

“I’m going to continue doing what I’m doing to try to make sure people can hear why I make decisions, and as best as I can, explain why I’m optimistic we can succeed,” he said.

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