Bush Gives Mixed View Of Progress In Iraq

President Bush visits a Harlem charter school as part of his No Child Left Behind campaign.
President Bush visits a Harlem charter school as part of his No Child Left Behind campaign. (By Gerald Herbert -- Associated Press)
By Peter Baker and Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, April 25, 2007

NEW YORK, April 24 -- President Bush said Tuesday that the verdict is still out on whether the Iraqi government can make the political changes necessary to end sectarian violence as he offered a mixed report card on the progress of his new Iraq strategy.

Bush told PBS talk-show host Charlie Rose that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has followed through on commitments to bolster Iraqi forces in Baghdad but that he has "still got a lot of work to do" on the political front, such as holding provincial elections and passing a law to share oil revenues.

The assessment was one of Bush's more nuanced in recent weeks, which have largely been devoted to pressuring Congress to approve money for military operations in Iraq and elsewhere. Bush said the U.S. commander in Iraq will need until September to "have a pretty good feel" for whether the Baghdad security plan is working.

"The good news is that sectarian death is down in Baghdad," Bush said. "The bad news is that spectacular car bombs still go off, in a way that tends to shake the confidence of the Iraqi people that their government can protect them."

Bush said, however, that a lessening of violence could reflect a decision by extremists to wait out the Americans until they leave. He also said if Maliki asks the United States to leave Iraq, "I don't see how we could stay" -- but added that the prime minister understands it would prompt a catastrophe for American forces to leave now.

Bush was in New York to urge Congress to reauthorize and expand his signature education measure, highlighting the successes of a charter school in the heart of Harlem as a model for the sort of improvements he wants to spread nationwide.

In a bipartisan break from his acrid fight with Congress over the war, Bush brought Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) here to focus on his No Child Left Behind law. While most of Bush's legislative agenda faces little chance of passage now that Democrats are in charge, education has been one of the few areas where the president has been able to work across party lines.

Abramowitz reported from Washington.

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