Troop cut possible, Bush says

first_imgThe Anbar region is a Sunni stronghold where in recent months there have been significant improvements in security. Administration officials have been touting the gains as evidence that the increase in American troops has proved a success – a word Bush used eight times in his public remarks on Monday. Hadley, briefing reporters, recalled a military intelligence officer’s dire warning a year ago that al-Qaida controlled the provincial capital, Ramadi, and other towns in the region. “Anbar Province is lost,” he quoted the analyst as saying then. Hadley apparently was referring to al-Qaida in Iraq, the homegrown Sunni Arab extremist group that American intelligence agencies have concluded is foreign-led. The extent of its links to Osama bin Laden’s network is not clear. On Monday, after meeting with some of the local Sunni leaders who only months ago led the struggle against the American presence in the region, Bush held up Anbar as a model of the progress that was possible. “When you stand on the ground here in Anbar and hear from the people who live here, you can see what the future of Iraq can look like,” he said. During his visit, Bush did not leave the base, a heavily fortified home to about 10,000 American troops about 120 miles west of Baghdad. Hadley said that planning for the trip had started five or six weeks ago. Administration officials seemed defensive about the notion that the trip was a publicity stunt. They said that Bush wanted to meet face-to-face with Petraeus and Crocker, who are to testify before Congress about progress in Iraq next week, and with Iraqi leaders he has been pressing from afar to take steps toward political reconciliation. By summoning al-Maliki and other top officials to the Sunni heartland, a region the Shiite prime minister has rarely visited, Bush succeeded in forcing a public display of unity. Meeting with the Iraqi leaders in a buff-colored one-story building near the runway, Bush effusively greeted President Jalal Talabani, the last of the five officials to enter the small conference room. The other Iraqi officials there were Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, and Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan region.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! After talks with Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, and Ryan C. Crocker, the ambassador to Iraq, Bush said that they “tell me that if the kind of success we are now seeing here continues it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces.” Bush did not say how large a troop withdrawal was possible. Nor did he say whether he envisioned any forces being withdrawn sooner than next spring, when the first of the additional 30,000 troops Bush sent to Iraq this year are due to come home anyway. Still, his remarks were the clearest indication yet that a reduction would begin sometime in the months ahead, answering the growing opposition in Washington to an unpopular war while at the same time trying to argue that any change in strategy was not a failure. “Those decisions will be based on a calm assessment by our military commanders on the conditions on the ground – not a nervous reaction by Washington politicians to poll results in the media,” Bush told a gathering of American troops, who responded with a rousing cheer. “In other words, when we begin to draw down troops from Iraq, it will be from a position of strength and success, not from a position of fear and failure. To do otherwise would embolden our enemies and make it more likely that they would attack us at home.” Bush flew with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and his national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, an extraordinary gathering of top leaders in a war zone. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, flew to Iraq separately and joined them. AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq – President George W. Bush on Monday made a surprise visit to Iraq for meetings with his commanders and senior Iraqi officials, raising the possibility that some American troops could soon begin to withdraw from Iraq if security gains in recent months continued. Bush spoke during an eight-hour visit to this remote desert base in the restive Sunni province of Anbar, where he had summoned Iraq’s Shiite prime minister, Nouri Kamal al-Maliki, and others to demonstrate that reconciliation among Iraq’s warring sectarian factions was at least conceivable, if not yet a fact. Bush’s visit to Iraq – his third – was a dramatic move with a clear political goal: to set the tone for a series of upcoming hearings in Congress. The hearings are expected to be critical of the administration’s strategy, but Bush tried to pre-empt opponents’ pressure for a withdrawal by hailing what he called recent successes in Iraq and by contending that only making Iraq stable would allow American forces to pull back. To ensure security, the White House shrouded Bush’s visit in secrecy, issuing a misleading schedule that said he would leave the White House on Monday and Air Force One would refuel in Hawaii. Instead, the president left the White House on Sunday night, traveled to Andrews Air Force Base without the usual motorcade and after an overnight flight arrived in Iraq on a sweltering summer afternoon when temperatures reached 110 degrees. last_img read more