As Congress cranked up resistance to his new Iraq war policy, President Bush said today the government in Baghdad has met three key benchmarks vital to his new but unpopular war strategy.
Bush said Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki assured him in a videoconference today that Iraq has met these benchmarks by moving Iraqi troops into Baghdad, approving a $10 billion budget for reconstruction and changing rules of engagement so all criminals, regardless of their religion, will be brought to justice.
"That's good news for the Iraqi people," Bush said. "And it should give people here in the United States confidence that this government knows its responsibilities and is following through on those responsibilities."
The comments came about 90 minutes before the Democrat-controlled House passed a non-binding resolution disapproving of Bush's plan to deploy more than 21,000 additional troops to Iraq. The debate lasted four days in the House and will move to the Senate in a rare Saturday session.
But a top military leader earlier in the day lauded the additional deployment, which began in recent weeks. Army Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil Jr., said violence in Baghdad has declined with the addition of thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops.
"We believe it's personally attributable to the significantly increased and enhanced stature of security forces on the streets and the operations that we're doing -- the clearing operations -- in many areas of the city," Fil told reporters at the Pentagon by videoconference from Baghdad.
Fil, who heads the Multi-National Division Baghdad unit, said insurgent forces are watching the new U.S.-Iraq war strategy "carefully" and "laying low" while plotting their next move.
"How long that will last, we don't know," he said.
Although violence has declined, Fil said insurgents have still attacked U.S. forces and set off car bombs, targeting civilians, since the new security operation began.
"Fortunately, those attacks on our forces have been ineffective," he said.
And Fil predicted some tough days ahead in a war that has claimed more than 3,100 American lives.
"This enemy understands lethality and they have a thirst for blood like I have never seen before," he said.
Bush spoke to reporters after meeting with the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan Ryan Crocker, whom he has nominated to become the top American diplomat in Baghdad.
Anticipating that Crocker will be confirmed by the Senate, Bush said the veteran diplomat will carry "a message of hope to the Iraqi people that the United States wants them to succeed, and a message of urgency to the Iraqi government that our patience is not unlimited and that we expect that government to perform."