Bush says Iraqi government must do more
MONTEBELLO, Quebec ” President Bush offered a tepid endorsement of the Iraqi government on Tuesday, yet brushed off a Democratic senator’s call for the ouster of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Bush acknowledged his frustration with Iraqi leaders’ inability to bridge political divisions, but he said only the Iraqi people can decide whether to sideline the troubled prime minister.
“Clearly, the Iraqi government’s got to do more,” Bush said at the close of a two-day North American summit with the leaders of Mexico and Canada.
The Sept. 15 deadline for Bush’s next progress report to Congress is fast approaching, leaving the president little time to show that his U.S. troop buildup is succeeding in providing the enhanced security the Iraqi leaders need to forge a unified way forward.
In a speech Wednesday to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Kansas City, Mo., Bush will argue that the troop buildup is helping bring former Sunni insurgents into the fight against al-Qaida and clearing terrorists out of heavily populated areas.
“Our troops are seeing this progress on the ground, and as they take the initiative from the enemy, they have a question: Will their elected leaders in Washington pull the rug out from under them just as they are gaining momentum and changing the dynamic on the ground in Iraq?” Bush says in his prepared remarks. The White House released excerpts of the speech Tuesday evening.
On Monday, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said there is broad frustration with inaction from Iraq’s central government. Levin, who recently returned from Iraq, urged the Iraqi Parliament to oust al-Maliki and replace his government with one that is less sectarian and more unifying.
And Sen. John Warner, R-Va., a former Armed Services Committee chairman and an influential voice on military affairs, joined with Levin in issuing a statement saying that while Bush’s military buildup in Iraq had “produced some credible and positive results,” the political outlook was dim.
Bush spoke at a news conference in Ottawa with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper before flying back to the United States to visit Minneapolis for a fundraiser and update about the Interstate 35W bridge collapse.
In his VFW speech Wednesday, Bush will compare today’s war against extremists with the militarists of Japan and the communists in Korea and Vietnam. In a speech next Tuesday at the annual American Legion convention in Reno, Nev., the president will put the war in Iraq in the regional context of the Middle East.
In the aftermath of Japan’s surrender, many thought it was naJive to help the Japanese transform themselves into a democracy, Bush will tell the VFW conventioneers. He said critics also complained when America intervened to save South Korea from communist invasion. And in Vietnam, Bush said, people argued that the real problem was America’s presence there, “and that if we would just withdraw, the killing would end.”
“The advance of freedom in these lands should give us confidence that the hard work we are doing in the Middle East can have the same results we have seen in Asia ” if we show the same perseverance and sense of purpose,” Bush said.
The president’s address at the convention is preceded by a parade of presidential hopefuls and Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.
Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, are to report to Congress before Sept. 15 about the impact of the troop buildup that Bush ordered in January. Their report will provide the basis for Bush’s decisions about the way forward in Iraq in terms of troop levels and tactics.
Over the past year, Bush has tempered his endorsement of al-Maliki. When they met in Jordan last November, the president called al-Maliki “the right guy for Iraq.” Now, he continually prods al-Maliki to do more to forge political reconciliation before the temporary military buildup ends.
“I think there’s a certain level of frustration with the leadership in general, inability to work ” come together to get, for example, an oil revenue law passed or provincial elections,” Bush said.
While the Iraqi parliament has recessed for the month of August, the president said lawmakers already had passed 60 pieces of legislation and have a budget process that distributes money from the central government to provinces.
He stressed U.S. commitment in Iraq, yet laid the political problems at Baghdad’s doorstep.
“The fundamental question is, Will the government respond to the demands of the people? And, if the government doesn’t demand ” or respond to the demands of the people, they will replace the government. That’s up to the Iraqis to make that decision, not American politicians.”
Trying to underscore the administration’s commitment to al-Maliki, National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe told reporters that Bush continued to have confidence in the prime minister and that his level of support had not changed.
“President Bush believes that Prime Minister Maliki and the presidency council are going to be able to come together and reach some sort of political accommodation,” Johndroe said. “He certainly urges them to do so every time he speaks with them.”