By Donna Miles
WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 2006 – There's no question that parts of Iraq are dangerous or that the mission there is tough, but President Bush said today he's convinced progress continues and vowed that the United States won't abandon the Iraqis. Bush, speaking at a White House news conference, said U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad and Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of Multinational Force Iraq, filled him in on the latest conditions on the ground in Iraq just this morning.
"They believe that there's, no question, violence," the president said. "They believe that al Qaeda is still creating havoc. They know there (are) people taking reprisal" and that Saddam Hussein loyalists continue to threaten people and carry out attacks.
But neither Khalizad or Casey, or the Iraqi government, agree that a civil war is under way, he said. And "they also believe that the Baghdad security plan is making progress," he said.
The president said he measures progress in Iraq in a variety of ways: whether the unit government is moving forward, whether it has developed a plan to resolve the issues it faces and whether its security forces are doing their jobs, among them.
But another measure is the resilience of the Iraqi people and whether they are working together to support their unity government, Bush said. That government is intact and moving forward as it makes tough decisions, the president said. "And we'll stay with them, ... because success in Iraq is important for this country," he said.
"We all want the troops to come home as quickly as possible," Bush said. "But they'll be coming home when our commanders say ... the Iraqi government is capable of defending itself and sustaining itself and governing itself."
He said he had hoped that Casey would tell him he needs fewer troops, but with the recent spike in violence in Baghdad, that just hasn't been the case.
Bush said he'll continue to listen to ground commanders and to make decisions in Iraq based on their recommendations, not popularity polls. "That's the way I continue to conduct this war. I listen to generals," he said. "Maybe it's not the politically expedient thing to do (to increase troop strength in Iraq) coming into an election, but you just can't make decisions based upon politics about how to win a war."
The president said he has great confidence in Casey and Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command. Both understand the difficulties of the task in Iraq and the "delicate relationship between self-sufficiency on the Iraqis' part and the U.S. presence."
Bush painted a picture of what could happen if the United States disregarded their recommendations, gave up on Iraq and basically handed it over to terrorists. "Imagine an enemy that can't stand what we believe in getting ahold of oil resources and taking a bunch of oil off the market in order to have an economic punishment," he said. "Or imagine a Middle East with an Iran with a nuclear weapon threatening free nations and trying to promote their vision of extremism through Hezbollah."
Those committed to stopping Iraq's progress, or the progress of other young democracies being challenged by extremists, all recognize the stakes in Iraq, Bush said. "The ideologues understand that liberty ... will trump their dark vision of the world every time," he said. "And that's why we call it an ideological struggle. ... It's a vital struggle."