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US troops part of 'great ideological struggle:' Bush

US President George W. Bush meets US soldiers. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Staff Writers
Fort Campbell, Kentucky (AFP) Nov 25, 2008
President George W. Bush Tuesday paid tribute to US troops who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan saying they had been part of "the great ideological struggle of our time."

And in a speech to troops at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, he sought to present an accord with Baghdad setting out a timetable for all US forces to withdraw from Iraq by 2011 in its best light.

On the eve of a vote in the Iraqi parliament on the deal hammered out over many months this year, US officials were cautiously confident the deal would be approved by the Iraqi parliament on Wednesday.

Just two months before he leaves office, the US leader, who had long opposed setting a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, rallied the troops and offered the prospect of an earlier return.

"The war in Iraq is not over. But we're drawing closer to the day when our troops come home," Bush told some 7,500 military and other personnel from the famed 101st Airborne Division.

"And when they come home, they will come home in victory."

In a sign of the shifting focus from Iraq to Afghanistan, a position shared by both Bush and his successor president-elect Barack Obama, troops from the 101st Airborne will deploy to Afghanistan in the coming weeks.

But in the waning months of a presidency likely to be defined by the "war on terror" launched after the September 11 attacks, Bush finds himself in an ironic turn of history, backing an agreement calling for an unconditional withdrawal of all American troops from Iraq by 2011.

Washington and Baghdad have been engaged in fraught negotiations since early 2008 to conclude the accord, known as a "status of forces agreement" (SOFA).

It will set out the status of US troops remaining in Iraq after the UN mandate that provides the legal framework for the international coalition to operate in Iraq expires on December 31.

The Bush administration is defending the latest version of the agreement as proof that the Iraqis wish to govern and defend themselves following the ousting of late dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.

"The Iraqis have come a long way, but they're not quite there yet to be able to take care of all their security needs on their own ... They continue to need our support," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, adding the administration was "hopeful" the accord would be approved Wednesday.

The US Ambassador to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, is leading efforts to rally support for the SOFA and a separate, broader, "strategic framework agreement."

Bush said: "As conditions on the ground continue to improve, we're also making progress toward completing a strategic framework agreement and a security agreement with the Iraqi government."

The debate over the agreement is "a good sign that Iraq has become a strong and vigorous democracy -- and it's a testament to the success of our men and women in uniform," he added.

Bush maintains that the deal is a direct result of his bid to spread democracy around the world, which he is hoping will be seen as one of the key legacies of his presidency.

Democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan would serve as an example for the entire region, Al-Qaeda would be deprived a safe haven and "success will frustrate Iran's ambitions to dominate the region," he maintained.

"Removing Saddam Hussein was the right decision then -- and it is the right decision today," Bush "The work you have done and are going to do is historical work."

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Far from home, Medvedev finds China a looming presence
Lima (AFP) Nov 25, 2008
As President Dmitry Medvedev takes Russian assertiveness to Washington's doorstep on a tour of Latin America, analysts point out an uncomfortable truth: China is stealing the show.

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