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Bush and Blair Throw Cold Water on Iraq Troop Withdrawals

Editor and Publisher | May 26 2006

NEW YORK Every few months, rumors or seemingly credible reports circulate that the U.S. is about to announce plans for troops withdrawals in Iraq. Newspaper editorials rarely press for a pullout, citing possible upcoming turning points, such as an Iraqi election or new government. But the turning points have proved illusory, and withdrawals have never come.

It happened again this past week, when reports circulated that a meeting in Washington, D.C. between President Bush and Prime Minister Blair would produce a statement about withdrawals. The meeting came and went on Thursday, with no such development.

At a press conference in the White House, reporters asked, essentially, what happened, or rather, did not happen. Here are a couple of exchanges from the transcript.

*

QUESTION: Mr. President, Pentagon officials have talked about prospects for reducing American forces in Iraq to about 100,000 by year's end. Does the formation of a unity government in Iraq put you on a sound footing to achieve that number?

BUSH: First of all, we're going to work with our partners in Iraq, the new government, to determine the best way forward in achieving an objective, which is an Iraq that can govern itself and sustain itself and defend itself.

I have said to the American people: As the Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down. But I've also said that our commanders on the ground will make that decision. And I will talk to General Casey once he has conferred with the new government of Iraq. They don't have a defense minister yet. They're in the process of getting a defense minister.

So it probably makes a lot of sense for our commander on the ground to wait until their defense structure is set up before we discuss with them and he with me the force levels necessary to achieve our objective.

QUESTION: So the 100,000...

BUSH: That's some speculation in the press that they haven't talked to me about. And as the commander in chief, they eventually will talk to me about it.

The American people need to know that we'll keep the force level there necessary to win. And it's important for the American people to know that politics isn't going to make the decision as to the size of our force level; the conditions on the ground will make the decision.

And part of the conditions on the ground is a new government. And we believe the new government is going to make a big difference from the lives of the Iraqi people.

I told you earlier that when you attack an Iraqi now you're, you know, you're at war with an Iraqi government that's constitutionally elected, and that's a different attitude from the way it's been in the past.

**

QUESTION: Mr. President, you have said time and time again and again tonight, when Iraqi forces stand up, coalition forces can start standing down.

BUSH: Right.

QUESTION: But the fact is you have been standing up Iraqi forces in great numbers.

QUESTION: The administration says you have hundreds of thousand trained and equipped, tens of thousand leading the fight. And yet during the same period they've been standing up, there has not been a substantial decrease in U.S. and coalition forces.

So what does that tell us about how meaningful the figures are on Iraqi troops? And what does that tell us about a potential for drawdown?

BUSH: It tells you that the commanders on the ground are going to make the decision; that's what that tells you. And when they feel comfortable in recommending to me fewer troops, I will accept that.

But they're going to make that recommendation based upon the conditions on the ground. I know I keep saying that. And it probably bores you that I keep giving you the same answer, but I haven't changed my opinion.

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