Bush praises approval of Iraq-U.S. security pact

The Associated Press
Thursday, November 27, 2008; 12:22 PM

CAMP DAVID, Md. -- President Bush on Thursday applauded Iraq's parliamentary vote approving an agreement allowing U.S. troops to remain for three more years, saying it "affirms the growth" of democracy there.

"Two years ago, this day seemed unlikely," Bush said in a statement from his Maryland mountaintop retreat. "But the success of the surge and the courage of the Iraqi people set the conditions for these two agreements to be negotiated and approved by the Iraqi parliament."

Bush, who was spending Thanksgiving Day with his family at Camp David, also praised a separate accord that he said "sets the foundation" for a long-standing relationship between Washington and Baghdad.

The vote in favor of the pact was backed by the ruling coalition's Shiite and Kurdish blocs as well as the largest Sunni Arab bloc, which had demanded concessions for supporting the deal.

"The improved conditions on the ground and the parliamentary approval of these two agreements serve as a testament to the Iraqi, coalition and American men and women, both military and civilian, who paved the way for this day," Bush said.

The president on Thursday telephoned 11 members of U.S. armed forces stationed around the world to wish them a happy Thanksgiving and to say that he admires them.

"I'm very proud of your service to our country. Thanks for stepping up and honoring your country. Thank you for your courage," he said, according to a statement by press secretary Dana Perino.

Bush said he was "proud to be your commander in chief" and he thanked the troops "for being out there and securing our country's future."

Citing a threat to U.S. security from Saddam Hussein, Bush ordered U.S. troops to invade Iraq and topple the Iraqi leader in early 2003. Saddam subsequently was tried there and convicted in connection with the killings of Shiite Muslims. He was executed in December 2006.

More than 4,200 Americans have died in the war, now in its sixth year, although violence and acts of terrorism have ebbed significantly in recent months.

"Today's vote affirms the growth of Iraq's democracy and increasing ability to secure itself," Bush said in Thursday's statement. "We look forward to a swift approval by Iraq's Presidency Council."

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appeared to have won the comfortable majority that he sought in order to give the agreement additional legitimacy.

Under the agreement, U.S. forces will withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 30 and the entire country by Jan. 1, 2012. Iraq will have strict oversight over U.S. forces.

The security pact meets an Iraqi goal of a clear timetable for the departure of American forces and has been described by al-Maliki as a path toward full sovereignty.

The vote had been delayed by one day because of sectarian-based disputes and power struggles among the political factions, which have hampered reconciliation efforts after years of war.

© 2008 The Associated Press