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Bush tells US ‘I'm not happy with Iraq'

Caroline Daniel / Financial Times | October 25 2006

President George W Bush on Wednesday sought to align himself with the concerns of the American people about progress in Iraq when he said he was “not satisfied either” with the swelling violence. But he said it was up to American troops to “prevent the full scale civil war from happening in the first place”.

Amid growing concern that US troops are presiding over a sectarian struggle, Mr Bush said he had no intention of “standing in the crossfire between rival factions in Iraq”. But he said the events of the last month had been a serious concern.

His sombre comments came during a press conference in which Mr Bush sought to take charge of the Iraq narrative, over which the White House has appeared to lose control.

During the past week, each day a senior military official or high-ranking Republican, from John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee, to Lindsay Graham, a pro-war Republican senator, have warned openly about the chaos in Iraq.

After rejecting calls for a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, calling those who sought them defeatist, the Bush administration is now embracing the concept of “benchmarks”. Mr Bush sought to draw a semantic distinction between “deadlines” and “benchmarks”.

“There's a significant difference between benchmarks for a government to achieve and a timetable for withdrawal,” he said.

In recent weeks the Bush administration rhetoric has shifted away from “staying the course”, towards emphasising flexibility in tactics, and the need for the Iraqi government to take more responsibility. The definition of victory in Iraq has also been scaled back, with Mr Bush saying the goal is an Iraq that can “defend, govern and sustain itself”.

In November 2005 however, in the Victory in Iraq document, the creation of democracy was the key goal. The document said the short term view of victory was an “Iraq that is making steady progress in fighting terrorists, meeting political milestones, building democratic institutions and standing up security forces,” and set a medium term goal of putting a “fully constitutional government in place”.

The only reference on Wednesday to Iraq as a democracy, was when Mr Bush said the US could not impose its views on “a sovereign government”.

Although Mr Bush said he would be willing to consider any “proposal that will help us achieve victory”, he did not say that he would be willing to engage with Iran and Syria on resolving tensions in Iraq. “Iran and Syria understand full well that the world expects them to help Iraq and we've made that very clear to them.”

US military officials in Baghdad in recent weeks have stepped up criticism of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for avoiding tough decisions. However, Mr Bush on Wednesday defended him as “the right man to achieve the goal in Iraq”, and pledged to “not put more pressure on the Iraqi government than it can bear”.

Mr Maliki on Wednesday rejected pressure by the US to take early decisions on measures to control militias.

Mr Bush also defended Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of defence, against calls for his resignation, saying he was “a smart, tough, capable administrator”.

 

 

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