WASHINGTON — Administration and Pentagon officials tell us they have set no timetable for withdrawal of American forces in Iraq — in fact, after all this talk about a new strategy — the administration's latest plan sounds pretty much like the old one, at least for now.
Violence in Iraq raged on unabated over the weekend. Masked insurgents shouting "God is great!" attacked a U.S. outpost in Ramadi, in a region where five Marines were killed.
Under growing political pressure at home, President Bush met with his top generals at the White House on Saturday to review the Iraq strategy — and Monday told CNBC's Maria Bartiromo the generals were calling the shots.
"The meeting went like this: We want to win. 'Yes, sir.' What are you doing to adjust to the enemy? And here are some options, Mr. President. And my answer is, 'You choose and I support you,'" Bush said.
Administration officials tell NBC News the generals recommended no major change in U.S. military tactics — or a timetable for withdrawing American troops.
Instead, the decision was made to prod the Iraqi government into drafting its own timetable to measure progress in Iraq — setting a timeframe and specific benchmarks for taking over their own security — disarming sectarian militias and improving government and vital economic services like electricity and oil production.
But what if the Iraqis don't make the date and miss their mark?
Because this would be an Iraqi timetable, it would carry no threat of penalty from the U.S., such as withdrawal of American forces.
White House spokesman Tony Snow said Monday the U.S. would issue no ultimatums to the Iraqis.
"Is there sort of an end of the year, United States comes to Iraq and says, ‘This is what you must do?' No,” said Snow.
And in London on Monday, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh sounded confident the U.S. would not pull its forces out of Iraq.
"I do believe there is no option for the international community to cut and run," he said. "The fate of Iraq is vital to the future of the Middle East and world order."
Pentagon officials insist the administration has warned the Iraqis that the commitment of American troops to the war is not open-ended, but given this latest strategy, it sounds as if the Iraqis are not convinced.
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