by Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 20, 2007 - U.S. goals for progress in Iraq have not changed, but the timeline has been set back in order to achieve those goals, President Bush said here today. Bush said the original goal of turning security control over to Iraqis in all 18 of the country's provinces by November has been delayed because progress has been slower than originally estimated. Still, he said, Iraqi control of the country's provinces is an important step in denying al Qaeda and other extremist groups' free movement in the region.
"I believe it's worth it for the security of the country. ... If we were to leave before the job is done, extremist groups like al Qaeda would be able to gain safe haven," Bush said in a wide-ranging White House news conference. "That's what they've said they want. They believe we won't have the will to hang in there and help this Iraqi government succeed, and they want us out."
Bush said he was willing to set back the timeline until summer 2008, based on military officials' guidance in the region, because securing Iraq will be "a major blow to extremists or radicals wherever they live in the Middle East."
"One of the things I feel passionately about is for the United States to recognize what a Middle East would be like if terrorists and extremists ... were to have safe haven and were emboldened by a U.S. defeat. And that's why ... one, I believe we can succeed, and two, I know we got to succeed," Bush said.
While more reconciliation is needed at the national level in terms of passing necessary legislation, local reconciliation is making progress in some areas and will eventually drive national politics, Bush said.
"There is local reconciliation taking place. I had a fascinating conversation in the Roosevelt Room earlier this week with members of provincial reconstruction teams from around Iraq who talked about how ... people are sick and tired of murder and violence and that they expect their local governments and their central government to be more responsive to their needs, and local governments are beginning to respond," Bush said. "Part of the reason why there's not this ... instant democracy in Iraq is because people are still recovering from Saddam Hussein's brutal rule.
"Local politics will drive national politics. I believe as more reconciliation takes place at the local level, you'll see a more responsive central government," Bush said.