WASHINGTON — President Bush assured Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari on Friday “there are not going to be any timetables” for withdrawal of American forces and vowed victory over insurgents attempting to prevent establishment of a democratic government.
“This is not the time to fall back,” al-Jaafari concurred at a joint news conference at the White House.
Fielding questions hours after the latest attack on a U.S. military convoy left five Marines and a Navy sailor dead, Bush conceded that it bothers Americans to see scenes of carnage on television.
Speaking of the insurgents, he said, “There’s no question there’s an enemy that still wants to shake our will and get us to leave. ... They try to kill and they do kill innocent Iraqi people, women and children ’cause they know that the carnage that they reap will be on TV and they know that it bothers people to see death.”
“It does. It bothers me. It bothers American citizens. It bothers Iraqis,” Bush said.
During their meeting, Bush and al-Jaafari talked about work being done to train Iraqi security forces — a precursor to bringing U.S. troops home — as well as efforts to draft a constitution and rebuild a nation still wracked by a violent insurgency more than two years after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Al-Jaafari confidently predicted Thursday that a constitution to guide his country toward democracy would be concluded by the end of August and then ratified in a popular referendum.
“We are going to do it within two months,” al-Jaafari said as he inspected the U.S. Constitution in the dimly lit, cool rotunda of the National Archives. Asked if it would be approved by the Iraqi people in the fall, he replied, “Yes.”
In the meantime, the U.S.-led multinational force must stay in Iraq until Iraqi forces are fully prepared to defend the country by themselves, al-Jaafari said.
Setting of a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces would be a sign of weakness, he said. “The country would be open to increased terrorist activity,” he told the private Council on Foreign Relations.
Anniversary of transfer of power
Bush’s meeting with the Iraqi leader comes just ahead of the one-year anniversary next Tuesday of the transfer of sovereignty, an event Bush will mark with a speech at a yet-to-be disclosed site outside Washington.
“There are challenges that lie ahead, and I expect that the two leaders will be talking about those challenges,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. “But the Iraqi people have shown, through their courage, that they are determined to meet their objectives.”
Al-Jaafari made a stop at the White House on Thursday to review strategy with Vice President Dick Cheney and Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen Hadley. He went to the archives, met with congressional leaders on Capitol Hill and visited Walter Reed Army Medical Center to express gratitude to U.S. troops wounded in his country.
The White House meeting is being held against the backdrop of growing concern among Americans about an engagement that has claimed the lives of more than 1,700 American troops.
Foreign policy had typically given Bush his highest scores with the public, but that has changed. An Associated Press-Ipsos poll this month found just 41 percent of adults supported his handling of the Iraq war, a new low.
479 car bombings
There have been 479 car bombs in Iraq since the handover of sovereignty on June 28, 2004, according to an AP count. At least 2,174 people have been killed and 5,520 have been wounded.
Continued bloodshed underscores comments from the top American commander in the Persian Gulf, who told lawmakers on Thursday that the Iraqi insurgency has not grown weaker over the past six months.
“I believe there are more foreign fighters coming into Iraq than there were six months ago,” Gen. John Abizaid said during a contentious Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. “There’s a lot of work to be done against the insurgency.”
The testimony undercut Vice President Dick Cheney’s recent assertion that the insurgency was in its “last throes.”
Asked whether he wanted to revise his comment, Cheney told CNN on Thursday, “No, but I’d be happy to explain what I meant by that.”
“I think there will be a lot of violence, a lot of bloodshed, because I think the terrorists will do everything they can to try to dispute that process (of training security forces),” Cheney said. “But I think it is well under way. I think it’s going to be accomplished, that we will, in fact, succeed in getting a democracy established in Iraq. And I think when we do, that will be the end of the insurgency.”
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