Bush: Iraq Troop Level Said Sufficient

By TERENCE HUNT
The Associated Press
Thursday, November 2, 2006; 2:32 AM

WASHINGTON -- President Bush says he has not received any request to send more American forces to Iraq and that commanders have told him the 144,000 troops already deployed are "what they can live with."

Bush also said "it's hard for me to tell" if U.S. troops will still be in Iraq when he leaves office in January 2009.

Five days before the midterm elections, the president said he understand the anxieties of Republicans who have distanced themselves from his Iraq policies. "People will run the race they need to run," he said. Bush said Democrats "don't have a plan for victory."

Bush spoke in an interview with The Associated Press and others Wednesday, a day before he headed out for five days of campaigning up to Election Day. He plans to vote Tuesday in Crawford, Texas, and then fly back to Washington to await returns at the White House.

Discounting mounting predictions that Republicans will lose control of the House, Bush expressed confidence that his party would maintain its grip on both the Senate and House.

"I don't believe it's over until everybody votes," Bush said, sitting in a wing chair in the Oval Office in front of a table adorned with a bowl of roses. "And I believe that people are concerned about the amount of taxes they pay, and I know many people are concerned about whether or not this country is secure against attack."

Now in its fourth year, the war in Iraq is the top issue in the election. Bush said he wanted Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, the top architect of the war, and Vice President Dick Cheney to remain with him until the end of his presidency.

"Both those men are doing fantastic jobs and I strongly support them," Bush said.

Democrats and Republicans alike have called for Rumsfeld's resignation, arguing that he has mishandled the war in Iraq, where more than 2,800 members of the U.S. military have died since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. Cheney has faced sharp criticism for his hardline views. In recent polling, less than 40 percent of respondents had a favorable view of Cheney and about a third had a favorable view of Rumsfeld.

Bush said he valued Cheney's advice and judgment.

"The good thing about Vice President Cheney's advice is, you don't read about it in the newspaper after he gives it," the president said.

While Cheney was re-elected with Bush for four years, there has been recurring speculation that he might step down, perhaps for health reasons. As a practical matter, Bush could ask the vice president to leave if he wanted.


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© 2006 The Associated Press