- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 25, 2006

12:29 p.m.

President Bush conceded today that the United States is taking heavy casualties in Iraq and said, “I know many Americans are not satisfied with the situation” there.

“I’m not satisfied either,” he said during a speech and question-and-answer session at the White House 13 days before midterm elections.

Despite conceding painful losses, Mr. Bush said victory is essential in Iraq as part of the broader war on terror.

“We’re winning, and we will win, unless we leave before the job is done,” he said.

Mr. Bush said that as those fighting American and Iraqi forces change their strategies, the United States is also adjusting its military tactics.

“Americans have no intention of taking sides in a sectarian struggle or standing in the crossfire between rival factions,” he said.

Several Democratic critics have said that is precisely what the administration is risking with an open-ended commitment of American forces, at a time when the year-old Iraqi government gropes for a compromise that can satisfy Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurdish political interests.

Mr. Bush spoke as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the U.S. government has a right to revise its policies as it sees fit. At the same time, he said talk of timetables for troop withdrawals “is not coming from the inner circles in the U.S. government,” but are the product of the American election campaign.

“We are not much concerned about that,” he said.

At another point, Mr. Bush said that “a fixed timetable for withdrawal, in my judgment, means defeat.”

Mr. Bush sought a middle ground in terms of pressing the Iraqis to accept more of the responsibility for their own fate.

“We are making it clear that America’s patience is not unlimited,” he said. “We will not put more pressure on the Iraqi government than it can bear.”

Mr. Bush spoke as polls showed the public has become strongly opposed to the war, and increasing numbers of Republican candidates have signaled impatience with the president’s policies.

As he has repeatedly, Mr. Bush predicted that Republicans would hold control of the House and Senate in two weeks’ time. He jabbed at Democrats who he said are “dancing in the end zone” or measuring the drapes for new offices.

“The American people will decide,” who wins, he said.

The president said the world expects Iran and Syria to help quell sectarian violence in Iraq, but he rejected the idea of working directly with Iran while Tehran pursues a nuclear program in defiance of the United Nations.

“If they would verifiably stop their enrichment, the United States would be at the table with them,” Mr. Bush said.

In his opening moments at the podium in the East Room of the White House, Mr. Bush departed starkly from a practice of not talking about specific deaths in Iraq.

“There has been heavy fighting, many enemy fighters have been killed or captured, and we’ve suffered casualties of our own,” he said. “This month we’ve lost 93 American service members in Iraq, the most since October of 2005. During roughly the same period, more than 300 Iraqi security personnel have given their lives in battle. Iraqi civilians have suffered unspeakable violence at the hands of the terrorists, insurgents, illegal militias, armed groups and criminals.”

He called these events “a serious concern to me, and a serious concern to the American people.”

For all his fervor about the importance of the military mission in Iraq, Mr. Bush sidestepped when asked whether the Nov. 7 elections should be viewed as a referendum on the war.

“The election is a referendum on which party has a plan to make the economy grow and which party has a plan to make the American people safe,” he said.

As he has numerous times while campaigning for Republican candidates, Mr. Bush said of the Democrats, “I do not question their patriotism. I question whether or not they understand how dangerous the world is.”

Mr. Bush defended the job that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has done. “I’m satisfied at how he’s done all his jobs. He’s a smart, tough, capable administrator,” the president said.

Then the commander in chief took full responsibility for the war.

“You asked me about accountability. It rests right here,” he said, pointing at his chest for emphasis, “That’s what the 2004 campaign was all about.”

The session was dominated by foreign policy, from Iraq to Iran, Syria and a question about North Korea, the secretive communist regime that recently said it had set off a nuclear test.

“The leader of North Korea likes to threaten. In my judgment, what he’s doing is testing the will of the five countries that are working together to convince him there’s a better way forward for his people.”

The president has refused to authorize one-on-one negotiations with North Korea. Instead, talks occur through a multinational group that includes Russia, China, South Korea and Japan as well as the United States.

Mr. Bush brushed off a North Korean warning for South Korea to stay clear of sanctions against Pyongyang for a nuclear test, declaring that “the coalition remains firm.”

“The leader of North Korea likes to threaten. In my judgment, what he’s doing is just testing the will of the five countries that are working together to convince him there is a better way forward for his people,” Mr. Bush said. “This is not the first time that he’s issued threats, and our goal is to continue to remind our partners that when we work together, we’re more likely to be able to achieve the objective, which is to solve this problem diplomatically.”

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