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    Bush: early Iraq withdrawal would be catastrophic

    AFP
    23.05.2008 - 10:52 | Son Güncelleme:

    President George W. Bush warned Thursday that a premature U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq would be "catastrophic for our country," strengthen Al-Qaeda and embolden Iran's nuclear ambitions.

    Bush said security had improved enough in Iraq to justify an ongoing drawdown that would see troop levels reduced by 25 percent from last year, but he gave no indication whether he supported even further troop reductions as General David Petraeus has indicated could take place.

     

    Earlier Thursday Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told Congress he expects to be able to recommend more cuts in U.S. forces in Iraq before he leaves his post in September.

     

    Bush, in a speech to thousands of army paratroopers recently returned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina from 15-month tours in Iraq, said he remained adamant that U.S. troops continue their "war on terror" to prevent renewed 9/11-style attacks on U.S. soil.

     

    "Withdrawal before success would send a signal to terrorists and extremists across the world that America is weak and does not have the stomach for a long fight," he said after observing a series of ceremonial parachute jumps.

     

    "Withdrawal before success would be catastrophic for our country. It would be more likely that we would suffer another attack, like the one we experienced on September the 11th, 2001," he added. "It would jeopardize the safety of future generations and we must not and we will not allow that to happen."

     

    He also warned that withdrawal "would embolden Iran and its nuclear weapons ambitions and its efforts to dominate the region."

     

    Bush said he expected "more violence" from "Iranian-backed special groups, illegal militias and criminal gangs," but he also praised Iraqi forces which he said are now better-equipped and better-trained to maintain security.

     

    With the war in its sixth year and the U.S. death toll above 4,000, Iraq is a flashpoint issue in this years U.S. presidential campaign, with Republican presumptive nominee John McCain the only candidate in favor of continuing a highly unpopular war.  

     

    Democratic hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are calling for a pullout.

     

    "I know there have been some disagreements on the war on terror," Bush acknowledged. "But wherever members of Congress stood on the decision to remove Saddam Hussein, we should be able to agree that our troops deserve America’s full support.

     

    "That means the United States Congress needs to pass a responsible war funding bill that does not tie the hands of our commanders and gives our troops everything they need to complete and accomplish the mission."

     

    A long-running impasse between the Democratic-controlled Congress and the administration has stalled approval of a $108 billion request to fund U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2008 fiscal year.

     

    The United States currently has some 155,000 troops in Iraq, but the number is supposed to fall to about 140,000 by July.

     

    Bush said his top generals have told him security conditions have improved sufficiently in Iraq to return, by the end of July, to the level of 15 combat brigade teams that preceded Bush’s "surge" strategy deploying additional soldiers last year. Three of five surge brigades have already returned.

     

    "Two more brigades will follow in the months ahead," Bush said. "When we complete this drawdown we will have reduced our combat brigades in Iraq by 25 percent from the year before."

     

    Petraeus was on Capitol Hill Thursday for confirmation hearings on his appointment to become head of the U.S. Central Command after his command ends in September.

     

    Last month he called for freezing troop withdrawals for at least 45 days after July, but on Thursday he said: "My sense is I will be able to make a recommendation at that time for some further reductions."

     

    Bush said Petraeus has done a "brilliant job" in Iraq and called on the Senate to "confirm him as soon as possible."

     

    Photo: AFP

     

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