By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 24, 2005 1:24 PM
President Bush promised the visiting Iraqi prime minister today that he would not set any timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, saying that to do so would hand an advantage to insurgents who could then "wait us out."
In a joint press briefing at the White House after a meeting with Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari, Bush also repeatedly expressed optimism that U.S. and Iraqi forces will prevail against terrorists he said are trying to wreak as much carnage as possible. He also said he was "optimistic about the political process" in Iraq, notably the current efforts to write a new constitution by an Aug. 15 deadline.
Jafari, making his first visit to the United States since he was named prime minister in April following January's parliamentary elections, said, "This is not the time to fall back."
He thanked Americans in emotional terms for having given the new Iraq "something more than money." He said, "You have given us a lot of your sons, your children that were killed beside our own children in Iraq." Jafari said that "this is more precious than any other kind of support we receive," adding, "We do not forget those who stood beside us at hard times."
The joint appearance before reporters in the East Room of the White House followed an Oval Office meeting in which Bush and Jafari discussed a U.S. program to train Iraqi security forces, Iraq's efforts to draft a constitution, the security situation in Iraq and reconstruction projects.
Bush said he also talked to Jafari about ensuring that Sunni Muslims are part of the political process and that "people's points of view are represented" in the drafting of the constitution. Iraq's minority Sunnis, who formerly dominated the government during the three-decade rule of Saddam Hussein, provide the main Iraqi base of support for the insurgents, who also include foreign Islamic radicals and people Bush described as "criminal elements."
Bush hailed Jafari, a medical doctor and member of the country's newly empowered Shiite Muslim majority, as a "great Iraqi patriot" and a "friend of liberty." Noting that Jafari spent more than two decades in exile because of his opposition to Hussein, Bush said the prime minister also is "a strong partner for peace and freedom" in Iraq. In addition, he said, Jafari "is a frank and open fella who was willing to tell me what's on his mind . . . and what's on his mind is a democratic future that is hopeful."
The meeting came amid ebbing public support for Bush's policies in Iraq and mounting calls in Congress for a timetable to begin withdrawing the nearly 140,000 U.S. troops there.
With Jafari standing a few feet away, Bush said, "There are not going to be any timetables. I have told this to the prime minister. We are there to complete a mission, and it's an important mission." He said, "Why would you say to the enemy: Here's a timetable, just go ahead and wait us out? It doesn't make any sense to have a timetable. You know, if you give a timetable, you're conceding too much to the enemy."
Bush added: "And so I'm not exactly sure who made that proposition, but you don't have to worry, Mr. Prime Minister, about timetables." He said later that the only timetable he knows of is one that says, "Let's have the constitution written by a certain date, and let's have it ratified by a certain date, and let's have the election by a certain date. That's the timetable. And we're going to stay on that timetable, and it's important for the Iraqi people to know we are."
Bush said of the insurgents, "They try to kill, and they do kill, innocent Iraqi people, women and children, because they know that the carnage that they reap will be on TV, and they know that it bothers people to see death. And it does. It bothers me. It bothers American citizens. It bothers Iraqis. They're trying to shake our will, that's what they're trying to do."
Nevertheless, Bush said, "We also understand that there is reason to be optimistic about what's taking place. The very same commanders that say that these folks are terrible killers are also reminding us that we're making good progress."
Bush said the insurgents "figure if they can shake our will" and affect public opinion, "then politicians will give up on the mission." He vowed, "I'm not giving up on the mission. We're doing the right thing, which is to set the foundation for peace and freedom."