President Bush acknowledged frustration with the troubled government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Tuesday but said it’s up to the Iraqi people to decide whether to continue supporting him.
Stopping short of offering an endorsement, Bush said it was not up to the United States to give a verdict on al-Maliki’s government.
“The fundamental question is, will the government respond to the demands of the people,” the president said. “And if the government doesn’t ... respond to the demands of the people, they will replace the government. That’s up to the Iraqis to make that decision, not American politicians.”
Bush was asked about the situation in Iraq at a news conference where he joined Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon in wrapping up a North American summit.
A day earlier, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, urged the Iraqi assembly to oust the U.S.-backed al-Maliki and replace his government with one that is less sectarian and more unifying.
“The Iraqis will decide,” Bush insisted. “They have decided they want a constitution. They have elected members to their parliament and they will make the decisions just like democracies do.”
Shift in tone for Bush
Over the last year, Bush has made a linguistic shift on al-Maliki. When they met in Jordan last November, the president called al-Maliki “the right guy for Iraq.”
More recently, however, Bush has taken more of a wait-and-see approach, saying that what matters is whether al-Maliki performs.
Bush encouraged more patience with the Iraqi government. He said there was change at the grass roots level in Iraq, with citizens “beginning to reject the extremists.”
Bush said Iraq had “made a great step toward reconciliation when they passed the most modern constitution in the Middle East and now their government’s got to perform.
“And I think there’s a certain level of frustration with the leadership in general, inability to work — come together to get, for example, an oil revenue law passed or provincial elections,” Bush said.
While the Iraqi parliament has recessed for the month of August, the president said lawmakers already had passed 60 pieces of legislation and have a budget process that distributes money from the central government to provinces.
Shortly after Bush spoke, the State Department said the Bush administration supports the al-Maliki government.
“We stand forthrightly behind them,” spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos told reporters. “We’re going to continue working with them to reach this political reconciliation, to help stabilize the country and to assist them in becoming a country that can secure itself and can provide for itself and that can continue to move forward in a democratic way.”
Progress report nears
Early next month, Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, are to report to Congress and the president about the impact of the troop buildup that Bush ordered in January. Their report will provide the basis for Bush’s decisions about the way forward in Iraq in terms of troop levels and tactics.
Levin, after a trip to Iraq and Jordan, said there is broad frustration with the lack of action by the al-Maliki government.
Separately, Levin issued a pessimistic statement Monday on Iraq with Sen. John Warner, R-Va., a former Armed Services Committee chairman and influential voice on military affairs. The lawmakers said Bush’s military buildup in Iraq had “produced some credible and positive results,” but that the political outlook was darker.
The senators said that during their visit to Iraq last week they told Iraqi leaders of American impatience with the lack of political progress, and “impressed upon them that time has run out in that regard.”