US President George W. Bush announced Thursday night (ET Time) he will pull some 21,500 combat troops from Iraq by mid-2008, but ruled out a full withdrawal and promised an "enduring" US presence there.
|This still image courtesy of CNN shows US President George W. Bush reading a letter during a televised address to the nation from the Oval Office of the White House, Sept. 13, 2007 ...|
"Because of the measure of success we are seeing in Iraq, we can begin seeing troops come home," he said in a prime-time televised speech. "The more successful we are, the more American troops can return home."
Insisting the unpopular war can still be won, Bush said whoever succeeds him at the White House will likely inherit the conflict and warned against giving up on a fledgling ally that is "fighting for its survival."
With most public opinion polls showing the US public two-to-one opposed to his strategy, and his Democratic foes clamoring for a withdrawal, Bush defiantly said he would build "an enduring relationship" with Iraq.
The unpopular president said that he had accepted advice from the US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, that would bring some 5,700 troops home by Christmas and a total of 21,500 combat troops out by mid-2008.
That would leave about 130,000 troops in Iraq, roughly the number in December 2006, one month before he escalated US force levels in a thus-far failed effort to give Iraq's leaders room to reach key political compromises.
Bush also bluntly acknowledged he was not satisfied with the pace of Iraqi political reforms that Washington views as critical to forging national unity and quelling sectarian violence and urged leaders in Baghdad to do more.
The president's plan came as the US Congress was poised to take up Democratic efforts to end the war and as presidential contenders faced tough questions on what they would do if elected in November 2008.
Opinion polls suggest that the war-weary US public is largely in favor of a swift withdrawal from Iraq, where more than 3,700 US soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed since the March 2003 invasion.
White House aides acknowledge that the surge strategy has not yielded what Bush identified as a central goal: passage by Iraq's parliament of legislation seen as key to fostering national unity and quelling the sectarian violence.
And they also say that it will not achieve a key goal: putting Iraqis in charge of their own security by November 1.