By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 15, 2007 - President Bush said today he supports the recommendations on reducing troop levels in Iraq made earlier this week by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq. During his weekly radio address, Bush voiced confidence in Petraeus' suggestion that U.S. forces reduce their size by 5,700 troops in Iraq by Christmas, and that troop levels could be scaled down from 20 combat brigades to 15 by July. Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker presented their report to Congress Sept. 10-11.
"I have accepted General Petraeus' recommendations. And I have directed that he and Ambassador Crocker deliver another report to Congress in March," Bush said. "At that time, they will provide a fresh assessment of the situation in Iraq and of the troop levels we need to meet our national security objectives."
The president said his guiding principle on troop levels is "return on success."
"The more successful we are, the more troops can return home. And in all we do, I will ensure that our commanders on the ground have the troops and flexibility they need to defeat the enemy," he continued.
Bush pointed to Anbar province as an example of progress in Iraq. This time last year, an intelligence report concluded that Anbar had been lost to al Qaeda. In a dramatic reversal, local sheiks expressed desire to work alongside coalition forces, prompting the U.S. to send an additional 4,000 Marines to Anbar as part of the troop surge. Since then, young Sunnis who formerly aligned themselves with insurgent groups are joining Iraq's security forces.
"Together, local sheiks, Iraqi forces, and coalition troops drove the terrorists from the capital of Ramadi and other population centers," Bush said. "Today, citizens who once feared beheading for talking to our troops now come forward to tell us where the terrorists are hiding."
Bush said Anbar's successful model is being replicated in other parts of Iraq, including Diyala province. Once a sanctuary for extremists, Diyala is now the site of a growing popular uprising against the extremists, Bush said.
In Baghdad, he added, sectarian killings are down, and life is beginning to return to normal in many parts of the city.
"Groups of Shia extremists and Iranian-backed militants are being broken up, and many of their leaders are being captured or killed," he continued. "These gains are a tribute to our military, to Iraqi forces, and to an Iraqi government that has decided to take on the extremists."
The president said the success of a free Iraq is critical to the security of the United States, and failure there would embolden extremists.
"Al Qaeda could find new recruits and new sanctuaries. And a failed Iraq could increase the likelihood that our forces would someday have to return -- and confront extremists even more entrenched and even more deadly," he said.
By contrast, Bush said, a free Iraq will deny al Qaeda a safe haven, serve as a partner in the fight against terrorism and counter Iran's "destructive ambitions."
Bush mourned the loss of Sheikh Abdul Sattar, a Sunni sheik who was a close ally to coalition forces. Sattar was assassinated this week by extremist perpetrators. "We mourn the loss of brave Iraqis like Sheikh Sattar, and we stand with those who are continuing the fight," the president said.
Bush said Iraq's youth can ensure a more hopeful future for their country, and a more secure America by standing up to extremist influences.
"If Iraq's young democracy can turn back its enemies, it will mean a more hopeful Middle East -- and a more secure America," Bush said. "So we will help the Iraqi people defeat those who threaten their future -- and also threaten ours."