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Bush U.S. troops may protect selves from Iranians

Reuters | January 27, 2007 
Steve Holland

President George W. Bush warned on Friday that if Iranians attempt to launch attacks against Americans or Iraqis inside Iraq, "we will stop them," but said U.S. troops would not go into Iran.

He spoke after The Washington Post reported that U.S. forces have the authority to capture or kill Iranian agents active in attacking American soldiers inside Iraq, a story Bush and other U.S. officials did not deny.

"It makes sense that if somebody is trying to harm our troops or stop us from achieving our goals or killing innocent citizens in Iraq, that we will stop them," Bush said. "It's an obligation we all have to protect our folks and achieve our goals."

Bush, whose new Iraq plan has been widely condemned by the U.S. Congress and is opposed by many Americans, spoke after talks with Army Gen. David Petraeus, just confirmed by the U.S. Senate to take command of the Iraq war.

As for congressional resolutions opposing his plan to send 21,500 more U.S. troops to Iraq, Bush noted the skepticism but said he was "the decision-maker," that his strategy was aimed at averting disaster in Iraq and that lawmakers should offer their own plan if they do not like his.

"Some are condemning a plan before it's even had a chance to work," he said.

The president has dismissed many of the key recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, whose report last month called for a pullback of most combat forces by early 2008.

Bush said any operations against Iranians would be conducted only inside Iraq. Two weeks ago his threat to go after Iranian networks operating in Iraq prompted speculation that the United States might launch attacks inside Iran.

"Some are trying to say that because we're enforcing, helping ourselves in Iraq by stopping outside influences killing our soldiers and hurting Iraqi people, that we want to expand this beyond our borders. That's a presumption that's simply not accurate," Bush said.

"We believe that we can solve our problems with Iran diplomatically and are working to do that," he said.

CRITICISM OF IRAQ POLICY

Some key members of Bush's Republican Party and many Democrats, who won a majority in both chambers of Congress last November thanks largely to voter anger over the Iraq war, have openly criticized the idea of adding more troops.

House of Representatives Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat who backs a phased U.S. withdrawal, called Bush's Iraq strategy "the most incompetent implementation of American foreign policy in my lifetime," in a speech to the Brookings Institution.

Hoyer said he expected the House to pass a resolution criticizing the troop boost. The Senate is expected to take up such a nonbinding resolution as early as next week.

Several Iranian officials have been detained in U.S. raids in Iraq over the past month, though no charges have been made public. The United States accuses Iran of helping arm, train and fund Iraqi militants, notably fellow Shi'ite Muslims.

UnderSecretary of State Nicholas Burns said Iran's government needed to know the United States would not tolerate its troops being targeted by Iranian agents in Iraq.

"We know that Iran has been providing sophisticated improvised explosive device technology to some of the Shia insurgent groups. We know that that technology has been used to target American forces. We have every right to go after those Iranian paramilitary and intelligence agents who are engaged in those activities inside Iraq," he said.

A senior U.S. official said Bush's national security team had recently discussed the Iranian threat and "made a decision that our forces needed to be able to protect themselves."

(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick, Susan Cornwell, Sue Pleming and Andrew Gray)

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