By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 30, 2007 – Early reports that credit Iraqi troops for taking the initiative during a Jan. 28 battle with insurgents near Najaf are heartening news, President Bush said during an interview with National Public Radio here yesterday. Bush also told NPR's Juan Williams that the Iranian government shouldn't be taking military actions in Iraq that endanger the lives of U.S. servicemembers deployed there.
The Najaf battle "is an indication of what is taking place, and that is the Iraqis are beginning to take the lead," Bush said. The fight involved Iraqi soldiers with U.S. military support engaging some 600 militants. Reports say more than 200 insurgents were killed in the engagement. A U.S. helicopter crashed during the battle, killing two crewmembers.
As part of the new strategy being implemented to stabilize Iraq, Bush expects the Iraqis to "show the American people that they're willing to (do) the hard work necessary to secure their democracy, and our job is to help them."
It's in the United States' national interest to assist the Iraqi government in defeating extremists, Bush emphasized.
Sectarian violence and criminality experienced in Baghdad and other parts of the country must be dealt with to achieve the political reconciliation that's necessary for uniting Iraq, Bush said. That's why more than 21,000 additional U.S. soldiers and Marines are being deployed to Baghdad and western Iraq, he added.
"And so I made a tough decision, and that is to reinforce our troops there and put a new commander there in the hopes of breaking the sectarian violence or helping the Iraqis break it," the president said.
The two-pronged strategy to secure Baghdad and other areas first involves U.S. troops training Iraqi forces and then accompanying them and providing support if necessary, Bush said.
He added that the democratic Iraqi government must achieve a reconciliation of the country's many sectarian and tribal groups, including Sunni and Shiite.
Failure in Iraq "would be a disaster for the Iraqi people and for the American people," Bush emphasized.
Williams passed along a question from a Minnesota National Guardsman deployed in Iraq, who asked the president what he'd do if the troop surge strategy doesn't work. Bush replied that he places great faith in his civilian and military advisors who recommended the surge plan. The U.S. strategy in Iraq also is flexible, Bush assured the soldier, noting it is "constantly adjusting to conditions on the ground" there.
Regarding conditions in Iraq, Bush warned the Iranian government against fomenting violence in Iraq or putting U.S. servicemembers' lives at risk. Some U.S. intelligence reports describe Iranian agents providing assistance to insurgents in Iraq.
"If Iran escalates its military action in Iraq to the detriment of our troops and or innocent Iraqi people, we will respond firmly," Bush said. "It makes sense for the commander in chief to say to our troops and the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government that we will help you defend yourself from people that want to sow discord and harm.
"And so we will do what it takes to protect our troops," he added.
However, Bush stressed, the United States is not planning to invade Iran. The United States has no hostility toward the Iranian people, he said, noting U.S. governmental concern is solely focused on the present Iranian government.
The United States and its allies want to employ diplomatic means to dissuade the Iranian government from acquiring nuclear power that could be used to develop atomic bombs, Bush said.
"However, if your government continues to insist upon a nuclear weapon, there will be a lost opportunity for the Iranian people; they won't be able to realize their full potential," the president said.
America will protect its interests in Iraq, Bush reiterated.
"That's what the American people expect us to do; that's definitely what our troops want to do; and that's what the families of our troops want us to do," the president said.
"And if we find the Iranians are moving weapons that will end up harming American troops, we'll deal with it," Bush said.
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