By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
July 14, 2007 – Most Americans want to see U.S. troops in Iraq accomplish their goals and begin to come home - and ensuring the troop surge there succeeds will pave the way for both, President Bush said today. "We can do both, and we will," the president said during his weekly radio address. He noted that U.S. troops in Iraq are serving bravely and making great sacrifices as they work to change conditions in Iraq. The job is difficult, Bush acknowledged, but "it can be done."
He noted that the White House's Initial Benchmark Assessment Report on the situation in Iraq, submitted this week to Congress, shows that the Iraqis are making satisfactory progress in eight of 18 areas. These include providing the three brigades they promised for the surge, establishing joint security stations in Baghdad neighborhood and providing $10 billion of their own money for reconstruction.
Bush also noted that progress in eight other areas was unsatisfactory. For example, the Iraqis have failed to prepare for local elections or pass a law to share oil revenues. In two remaining areas, the progress was too unclear to be characterized one way or the other.
The president emphasized that the interim report is just a snapshot in time, issued only one month after the troop surge in and around Baghdad reached full strength. Far more telling, he said, will be the next report, due Sept. 15, that will better assess the impact of surge operations.
In the meantime, Bush said he recognizes that people will interpret the interim report based on their beliefs about the war.
"Those who believe that the battle in Iraq is lost are pointing to the unsatisfactory performance on some of the political benchmarks," he said. "Those of us who believe the battle in Iraq can and must be won see the satisfactory performance on several of the security benchmarks as a cause for optimism."
The bottom line, he said, is that the U.S. strategy in Iraq is built on the premise that progress on security will pave the way for political progress. "This report shows that conditions can change, progress can be made and the fight in Iraq can be won," he said.
Bush said the strategy is markedly different from the one the United States was following last year -- one he acknowledged he changed because it became clear it wasn't working.
"So I consulted my national security team, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and military commanders and diplomats on the ground," he said. "I brought in outside experts to hear their ideas. And after listening to this advice, in January I announced a new way forward."
That new approach included sending reinforcements to help the Iraqis protect their people, improve their security forces and advance the difficult process of reconciliation at both the national and local levels, he said.
Bush pointed to recent experience in Anbar province as an example of what the United States hopes to achieve throughout Iraq. As recently as last September, Anbar was held up as an example of America's failure in Iraq, he noted.
But around that same time, the situation began to change, he said. Sunni tribes that had been fighting alongside al Qaeda against the coalition came forward to fight alongside the coalition against al Qaeda. Bush said he responded by sending reinforcements to take advantage of the opportunity. "And together we have driven al Qaeda from most of Anbar's capital city of Ramadi -- and attacks there are now at a two-year low," he said.
Operations now under way throughout Iraq, but particularly in and around Baghdad, are aimed at replicating the success in Anbar in other parts of the country, he said. "We are starting to take the initiative away from al Qaeda, and aiding the rise of an Iraqi government that can protect its people, deliver basic services and be an ally in the war against extremists and radicals," he said.
"By doing this, we are creating the conditions that will allow our troops to begin coming home," Bush said.
He emphasized that military commanders, not politicians in Washington, will be the ones to determine when the conditions are right for that to happen.
"To begin to bring troops home before our commanders tell us we are ready would be dangerous for our country," he said. It would mean surrendering the future of Iraq to al Qaeda, risking a humanitarian catastrophe and allowing terrorists to establish a safe haven in Iraq and gain control of vast oil resources they could use to fund new attacks on America.
"And it would increase the probability that American troops would have to return at some later date to confront an enemy that is even more dangerous," Bush said.
He urged continued support of the commanders and troops in Iraq, so they have the time and resources they need to succeed.
"Changing the conditions in Iraq is difficult, but it can be done," he said. "The best way to start bringing these good men and women home is to make sure the surge succeeds."