Washington (AFP) Mar 22, 2006
President George W. Bush on Tuesday suggested that US troops will be in Iraq at least until 2009 and said he would only withdraw them if the situation appeared hopeless.
Asked whether all US forces would someday leave the war-torn country, Bush, whose term ends in January 2009, said: "That, of course, is an objective. And that will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq."
In a wide-ranging press conference, the embattled president also hinted at rifts in the diplomatic approach to Iran's nuclear program, saying that Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the United States would meet later this week "to make sure that the message remains unified and concerted."
"It's important for our citizens to understand that we've got to deal with this issue diplomatically now," he said. "If the Iranians were to have a nuclear weapon, they could blackmail the world."
Russia and China, both veto-wielding permanent UN Security Council members, have resisted calls for the council to pressure Iran over its nuclear power program. Tehran denies US charges it secretly seeks atomic weapons.
Bush also said that the United States would make clear, in any talks with Iran about the situation in Iraq, that Washington viewed efforts to stoke sectarian violence and help arm insurgents as "unacceptable."
"This is a way for us to make it clear to them about what's right or wrong in their activities inside of Iraq," said the president, who denied that the strife-torn country had slipped into civil war.
"There's going to be more tough fighting ahead," he said, but "the Iraqis took a look and decided not to go to civil war" after the attack on a revered Shiite Muslim shrine.
"I'm optimistic -- we'll succeed. If not, I'd pull our troops out. If I didn't believe we had a plan for victory, I wouldn't leave our people in harm's way," he said. "I wouldn't put those kids there."
Some 2,300 US soldiers have been killed and many more wounded since the war in Iraq began almost exactly three years ago, and the open-ended conflict has dragged Bush's poll numbers to some of their lowest levels ever.
The press conference came as some in his Republican party have worried that his unpopularity may drag down their prospects to retain control over the US Senate and House of Representatives in November mid-term elections.
For the second straight day, Bush took on critics who say his sunny forecasts for Iraq are out of touch with the bloody daily reality, insisting he was "realistic" and warning against a hasty US withdrawal.
And for what may have been the first time, the president said he knew things in Iraq were difficult because "I hear it from our troops" -- not only the media he has accused of focusing on violence rather than progress.
Bush, who has repeatedly said that US soldiers will come home only as Iraq's fledgling security forces can replace them, warned that a hasty withdrawal would embolden terrorists and discourage reformers in the Muslim world.
"If people in Iran, for example, who desire to have an Iranian-style democracy, Iranian-style freedom, if they see us lose our nerve, it's likely to undermine their boldness and their desire," he said.
"A democracy in Iraq is going to affect the neighborhood. A democracy in Iraq is going to inspire reformers in a part of the world that is desperate for reformation," he said.
Amid mounting calls for a staff shake up at the White House, the president also rejected calls for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's removal, saying "I don't believe he should resign. I think he's done a fine job."
But Bush suggested that he would make a change, saying: "I'm not going to announce it right now."
Source: Agence France-Presse
Experts Say Future Bleak In Iraq
"I think we are in fact in a civil war now and have been for a long time," said Stephen Biddle, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, "within the conflict it is possible to escalate or deescalate the violence, " he said
Biddle told a CFR meeting that the intensity level of the civil war had not yet escalated to all-out, unconstrained violence and that could still be avoided if the United States were to remedy its foreign policy strategy.
"I think it is probably a good general description of American foreign policy that we don't have as much control as we think we do," said Biddle.
At present, the "underlying nature of the conflict is an inter-communal security dilemma in which each of the major actors in the country fears for its survival if one or more of the others got control of the government," he said.
The United States is currently working to strengthen an Iraqi military to hand the war off to, but at present, that group is comprised of the Sunnis who are perceived by the Shiite and Kurdish groups to be a threat to their security.
"Given that strengthening a military they view as their enemy strengthens their resistance creates political problems -- the first thing we need to do is slow down, rather than speed up," Biddle said.
"What matters most here in Washington is whether or not we are going to withdraw the troops," from Iraq, said Jane Arraf, Edward R, Murrow Press Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and former Baghdad Bureau Chief for CNN.
"Unfortunately the nature of this conflict is that we're going to have to stay there longer than we would like," said Biddle.
If the Untied States withdrew from Iraq too rapidly, that could set off an unconstrained civil war among the groups, Biddle said. That could rapidly lead to Iraq becoming a terrorist haven.
"If Iraq breaks up, we tend to think it will be in nice, neat parts," said Arraf. But that was not necessarily the case, she said. "There seems to be no way we can ever repair this," she added.
The outcome that America wants requires solving not only a security and ethnic dilemma, but also means coming to grips with rampant corruption currently holding the country back, the experts said.
"Right now the policy in Iraq is to stay until and unless the national military is capable of waging war on its own," said Biddle.
"We need to be capable of realignment among the parties," contingent upon the American military's use of leverage, to get the factions together with common goals and damping their fears to promote coexistence, said Biddle.
The U.S. government needs to signal that it will not remain in Iraq indefinitely and that it is really willing to address Iraqi needs, Biddle said. Communicating this perception to the Iraqi people was essential to winning the war there, he said.
"It should be: "Iraq -- the way out," said Joseph Cirincione, Senior Associate and Director for Non-Proliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
"We're talking next year -- and halting the time-frame for withdrawal of the troops," he said. "This war is a complete fiasco."
Biddle said U.S. forces should stay on in Iraq in order to meet the strategic needs of the war. "There are some Americans out there who would like to hope that something good can come out of this," he said.
"Thinking about civil war as an the definition of failure, then to describe what is going on now as a civil war is an admission of failure is an admission tantamount to the suggestion that we should simply withdraw," he said.
"If, at the end of the day, someone were to prove that this negotiation will fail, I think the United States should withdraw and suffer the losses," Biddle said, "But I think we have to be willing, if necessary to stay there a very long time."
Source: United Press International
US Blasted For Creating Terrorism Quagmire On Anniversary Of Iraq War
Sydney (AFP) Mar 21, 2006
Asian newspapers Monday took the United States to task on the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, with one commentator saying it had created the ideal environment for terrorism to fester.
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