By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
May 10, 2007 – The new security plan for Baghdad needs a chance to succeed, and troops serving in Iraq deserve the resources they need to make sure it does, President Bush said at the Pentagon today. Bush spoke to reporters following a two-hour meeting with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other defense and military leaders.
The president said he considers it ironic that the Senate unanimously approved Army Gen. David H. Petraeus to serve as commander of Multinational Force Iraq after hearing details of his security plan but isn't showing a willingness to give that plan a chance to work.
Even before the troop surge is fully implemented to step up security in Baghdad, Bush said, some in Congress are asking when the drawdown can begin.
He noted that three additional U.S. brigades included in the surge have taken up positions and begun operations alongside three additional Iraqi brigades. A fourth U.S. brigade just arrived in Baghdad, and a fifth brigade is slated to arrive in mid-June.
"So it's going to be another month before all the additional troops that General Petraeus has requested are on the ground and carrying out their missions in Iraq," Bush said.
Initial indications are that this effort is working, the president said, with coalition troops and Iraqi security forces working side by side to reduce sectarian violence. "With increased presence, there's increased confidence, and with increased confidence becomes increased information -- information that forces can use to go after extremists to bring down sectarian violence that plagued the capital city," he said.
Sectarian murders have dropped significantly, he said, although terrorists and insurgents appear to be ratcheting up high-profile attacks. "As we have surged our forces, al Qaeda is responding with their own surge," Bush said.
He called these attacks "part of a calculated campaign" to shake Iraqi confidence and American will.
Compounding this, Bush said, is that troops are now operating in parts of Iraq where terrorists and militias previously had sanctuary. "As they continue to do so, our commanders have made clear that our troops will face more fighting and increased risks in the weeks and months ahead," the president said.
Bush praised the U.S. troops serving in harm's way in Iraq and said they need the resources and flexibility to do the job that's been asked of them.
He urged quick passage of a new emergency war-spending bill to ensure they're fully funded and equipped.
The president vetoed a previous $93.4 billion bill because it stipulated that U.S. combat troops be out of Iraq by Aug. 31, 2008. Bush said he rejects establishing a deadline for troop withdrawals and also opposed non-war-related costs included in the bill.
The president insisted that decisions about troop numbers must be based by conditions on the ground, "not based on politics or the latest opinion polls."
He urged patience to allow time for the Iraq security plan to work and to give Petraeus an opportunity to assess its progress. Petraeus is expected to report his findings to Bush, Pentagon leaders and Congress in September.
"My attitude is, General Petraeus' plan ought to be given a chance to work, and we need to give the troops under his command the resources they need to prevail," the president said.
Bush acknowledged that it's fair to debate issues concerning Iraq, but insisted it's unfair to put troops in the middle of that debate by holding their funding hostage.
"Whatever your beliefs may be, let's make sure the troops get funded. Don't hamstring people in the field," he said. "Time's running out because the longer we wait (to get an approved funding bill), the more strain we're going to put on the military."
The consequences of failing in Iraq would be devastating not just to Iraq and the region, but also to the United States, he said
It would send a dangerous signal to terrorists, enabling them to increase their influence around the world. Even more concerning, Bush said, is that it would embolden al Qaeda to launch another deadly attack against the United States.
That recognition changes the stakes and the importance of the debate taking place in Washington about the war, Bush said.
Debating only about how fast to withdraw troops doesn't get to the heart of the issue, he said. "The debate ought to be what do we need to do to make sure that we not only don't fail, but succeed," he said. "It's vital we succeed."
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