- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2007

President Bush yesterday touted positive early results of his troop “surge” in Iraq and urged patience with the plan, though the administration says privately it knows it has only a short time to produce substantive results.

“It’s too early to judge the success of this operation. The strategy is going to take time,” said Mr. Bush in a speech to the American Legion’s national convention in the District. “Yet even at this early hour, there are some encouraging signs.”

Mr. Bush told his audience that while “the struggle in Iraq may be hard this should not be a time for despair.”

The crowd of several hundred mostly-older veterans laughed at the president’s jokes and cheered him on, but their largest applause a standing ovation came when the president said Congress should not restrict or cut off funding for the war.

Still, administration officials say they know that America’s patience with the Iraq war has grown thin. But they think the plan to send 21,500 additional troops to Iraq has bought them a short window of time.

“I think right now there’s a wait-and-see attitude by the public, which is what we were hoping for,” said a senior Bush administration official. “While there hasn’t been a spike in support for it, it’s almost a pay-as-you-go approach, and as they see a little bit of progress, they’ll buy you a little more time.”

Polls continue to show substantial opposition to the president’s surge.

Those polls, the senior White House official said, are “all depending on how you frame the questions.” The public is “more inclined to wait and see how this new strategy works more so than many of our friends on Capitol Hill.”

Mr. Bush said in his speech that Iraqis are delivering, militarily and politically, on promises they made at the president’s request, as a condition for his sending more troops.

He cited the proposal of a law to share oil revenue equitably among all three principal Iraqi groups, and the government’s agreement to spend $10 billion on reconstruction within the country, as two positive political signs.

“Now Iraq’s leaders must meet the other pledges they have made,” Mr. Bush said.

Those pledges include allowing members of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party who are barred from many jobs to be employed by the government, working on a constitutional review process, and setting a date for provincial elections.

The president also said that U.S. and Iraqi forces have had success in capturing and killing al Qaeda terrorists during recent operations, and have captured more than 700 people “affiliated with Shia extremists.” U.S. and Iraqi forces have also recovered large weapon- and bomb-making caches, Mr. Bush said.

The news out of Iraq yesterday, however, was bad. Two suicide bombers killed 93 persons when they blew themselves up in the midst of a crowd of Shi’ite pilgrims near the holy city of Karbala. On Monday, nine U.S. soldiers were killed in attacks.

“You see some signs of success, but you also see horrible suicide bombings, and you also see our soldiers dying. And so we have got a long way to go,” said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.

In his speech, Mr. Bush said congressional Democrats have a right to criticize his conduct of the war and its course but he criticized several of their ideas: adding unrelated items to a war spending bill, narrowing the mission in Iraq, or placing conditions on money for the war.

Mr. Bush told the gathered veterans that military commanders should have “the flexibility to carry out their missions without undue interference from politicians in Washington.”

The White House also has had to deal with a series of embarrassing revelations about wounded Iraq war veterans getting poor care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the District. Mr. Bush used yesterday’s speech to the friendly audience of Legionnaires to announce the appointment of a bipartisan panel to investigate the mistreatment charges.

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