Bush rejects timetable to pull out of Iraq
With Iraqi leader at side, president vows to complete mission
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush struck back Friday against growing calls to schedule a U.S. pullout from Iraq, vowing there would be no timetable to withdraw troops.
To do so would be "conceding too much to the enemy," Bush said at a news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari at the White House.
"This is an enemy that will be defeated."
Bush said the insurgents were trying to scare Iraqis and Americans into giving up their efforts.
"We are there to complete a mission, and it's an important mission," he said. "A democratic Iraq is in the interests of the United States, and it's in the interests of laying the foundation for peace."
Al-Jaafari also said now isn't the "time to fall back."
"We owe it to those who have made sacrifices to continue toward the goals they fought," he said. "I see from up close what's happening in Iraq, and I know we are making steady and substantial progress."
Al-Jaafari's visit to Washington comes as support for the war has fallen in recent surveys of the American public.
A CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll released Monday found nearly six in 10 Americans oppose the war. (Full story)
With the deaths of more than 1,700 U.S. troops in the war, a bipartisan group of lawmakers have called on the White House to provide a clear exit strategy. (Full story)
As part of an effort to build a new wave of optimism for U.S. efforts in the region, Bush on Friday asked U.S. TV networks to air a live prime-time speech he will deliver Tuesday to troops at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the president "will be very specific about the way forward in Iraq in his remarks."
Meanwhile, Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf region, told a Senate panel Thursday that more foreign fighters are coming into Iraq than were six months ago.
"In terms of overall strength of the insurgency, I would say it is the same as it was," said Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command. (Full story)
His conclusion that the insurgency has not diminished seemed to differ from Vice President Dick Cheney's recent assertion that it was in its "last throes." On Thursday, Cheney defended those remarks to CNN, saying Iraq will be "an enormous success story." (Full story)
Bush said Friday that Abizaid regularly briefs him, Cheney and other administration officials about U.S. and Iraqi military efforts. "We understand the nature of that enemy," he said.
"We also understand that there is reason to be optimistic about what's taking place. The very same commanders that say that these folks are terrible killers are also reminding us that we're making good progress."
Bush acknowledged that "the way ahead is not going to be easy." But he cast the struggles in Iraq as part of a larger picture, including democratic efforts in Egypt and reform in the Palestinian government. "We're laying the foundation for peace around the world," the president said.
Al-Jaafari thanked Americans, saying through a translator, "You have given us something more than money. You have given us a lot of your sons, your children that were killed beside our own children in Iraq."
Americans should be proud of giving Iraq the chance to achieve democracy and to be free from Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, al-Jaafari said.
The prime minister also pushed for debt relief in Iraq.
Saddam, he said, took the money of Iraqis and Kuwaitis. Now, Iraqis "have to pay off so many debts, and we hope that all countries will stand beside us to correct this. ... We look forward to the international community to stand beside us."
Al-Jaafari called on Bush to create something for Iraq along the lines of the Marshall Plan for Europe after World War II. "This would be a very wonderful step," he said.
The news conference ended at that point, with no follow-up from Bush.
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