By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
July 20, 2007 – President Bush today praised the work the troops are doing in Iraq and urged Congress to pass a defense spending bill to support them before starting its August recess. Those funds are critical to upgrade equipment for deployed troops and provide them the pay raise they deserve, the president said. He charged that debate about withdrawing from Iraq has overshadowed focus on passing a spending bill to support them.
Bush expressed concern about Congress waiting until after Labor Day, less than a month before the fiscal year ends and Defense Department funds run out, to pass a spending bill. He called on Congress to pass a bill now.
In the meantime, Bush also urged Congress to give troops in Iraq the time they need to carry out the new strategy there. He emphasized that the troop surge in Iraq, a key component of the new strategy, became full strength just over a month ago.
"Like all wars, the fight in Iraq has had frustrating setbacks," he acknowledged. But he also cited "important successes."
Bush pointed to "dramatic turnarounds" in Anbar province and other parts of Iraq once considered lost to insurgents. He also noted the capture this week of Khaled Abdul-Fattah Dawoud Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, also known as Abu Shahid, the highest-ranking Iraqi in the leadership of al Qaeda in Iraq.
"These successes demonstrate the gains our troops are making in Iraq, and the importance of giving our military the time they need to give their new strategy a chance to work," he said.
The outcome of the conflict will have "enormous consequences for our country," he said. Failure in Iraq would allow terrorists to operate from an oil-rich safe haven. It would set the stage for a likely future U.S. troop intervention there to face a far more dangerous and entrenched enemy. It also would signal America's enemies that the country can be "bullied into retreat," Bush said.
The war in Iraq doesn't have to end that way, he said. "A free and stable Iraq is still in reach." Reaching that goal "has the potential to transform the region and lay the groundwork for a peaceful future, he said.
Bush repeated the words of one of his visitors, Eric Egland, founder of "Troops Need You," a group that sends resources and supplies to troops in Iraq so they can help improve local Iraqis' quality of life. "We live in the world's oldest democracy and have been blessed with the strength to protect our freedoms and to help others who seek the same," Bush said Egland told him today.
"This has always been America's mission, and today that mission is being carried out by brave men and women who have stepped forward to keep our country secure," the president said. "I thank them and I thank their families for the sacrifices they're making. And I thank you all for supporting them."
Bush's statement followed his meeting with Egland and nine other members of military support organizations to discuss the surge in Iraq and the recent efforts by servicemembers deployed there. In addition to Troops Need You, they represented "Families United for Our Troops and Their Mission," "Military Families Voice of Victory" and "Vets for Freedom."
Families United for Our Troops and Their Mission is a coalition of families with deployed loved ones, veterans of the terror war, Blue Star and Gold Star families and community leaders. Group members who met with Bush today were chairwoman Merrilee Carlson, Ron Griffin, retired Navy Chief Warrant Officer Pat Ivory and retired Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Terri Ivory.
Military Families Voice of Victory provides support to the troops as well as their mission. President Becky Davis represented the group today.
Vets for Freedom was established by combat veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan to educate Americans about the importance of success in Iraq. Group representatives at today's meeting were Pete Hegseth, executive director, and retired Marine Capt. Knox Nunnally, retired Army Sgt. Mark Seavey, and retired Marine Lt. Wade Zirkle.