Bush Rejects Troop Reductions, Endorses Maliki

By Michael Abramowitz and Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, December 1, 2006

AMMAN, Jordan, Nov. 30 -- President Bush on Thursday dismissed calls for U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq as unrealistic, saying American forces would "stay in Iraq to get the job done, so long as the government wants us there."

Speaking after a summit here with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Bush also offered a strong endorsement of the embattled leader, calling him "the right guy for Iraq."

The two men met for about two hours in the Jordanian capital, discussing how to crack down on the sectarian violence ravaging Iraq and what could be done to speed the turnover of security responsibilities from U.S.-led foreign troops to Iraqi forces.

In the news conference that followed, Bush sought to preempt a growing clamor to start a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, a proposed policy shift that has gained traction as a result of the Nov. 7 congressional elections and that is expected to be endorsed by the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan commission headed by former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former representative Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.). The United States has more than 140,000 troops in Iraq.

Although the president was not asked directly about the panel's recommendations, which will be made public next week but which were partially leaked to reporters late Wednesday, he did say that "this business about graceful exit just simply has no realism to it whatsoever."

Later, national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley told reporters aboard Air Force One that Bush would start making changes in his Iraq policy soon after receiving the study group's recommendations and the reports of other high-level review panels. "There is a real sense of urgency, but there is not a sense of panic," Hadley said, according to the Reuters news agency.

Maliki, meanwhile, declared that he is moving to disarm militias in Iraq and expects government forces to assume full control of security duties by June.

"I can say that Iraqi forces will be ready, fully ready, to receive this command and to command its own forces, and I can tell you that by next June, our forces will be ready," Maliki said in an interview with ABC News after his meeting with Bush.

Asked whether he would disarm militias such as the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr, an anti-American Shiite cleric, Maliki, himself a Shiite, said: "Definitely. And the government is doing that with all militias, with no exception. There will be only the arms for government troops."

Sadr is seen as perhaps the single most powerful political leader in Iraq. The Mahdi Army is the largest and most violent of Iraq's private Shiite militias, and Sadr's supporters make up one of the biggest blocs in the Iraqi parliament. Although the Sadr bloc played a pivotal role in making Maliki prime minister, its members walked out of parliament and the cabinet on Wednesday in protest of Maliki's meeting with Bush.

During their news conference, Bush declined to answer directly a question about whether he urged Maliki to distance himself from Sadr. Bush said that after he and Maliki discussed the "political situation" in Iraq, he came away "reassured" by the prime minister's determination to hold to account those who break the law -- "whether those people be criminals, al-Qaeda, militia, whoever."

Asked whether he would break with Sadr, Maliki did not answer directly, noting that Sadr's faction is only one part of his ruling coalition and that all those participating in the government bear responsibilities.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company