Bush Pushes Transfer of Security Duties to Iraqis
President Bush returns to Washington after meeting in Amman, Jordan, with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The president said the United States will step up the pace of handing over security duties to Iraqi forces. But he also insisted that U.S. troops will stay until the job is done.
The meeting of the two leaders came as details of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group's final report were leaked to The New York Times. The newspaper says the group will call for a gradual pullback of the 15 American brigades now in Iraq, although it does not provide a timetable.
In a joint news conference with Maliki, Mr. Bush said he's ready for the Iraqi leader to start taking more command and control over Iraq's security forces. The president said he has confidence in Maliki, whom he said is "the right guy for Iraq."
"The sign of leadership is for somebody to say, 'I want to be able to have the tools necessary to protect my people,'" the president said. "One of [Maliki's] frustrations with me is that he believes we've been slow about giving him the tools necessary to protect the Iraqi people."
Mr. Bush downplayed the notion that this will mean that the United States is ready to leave Iraq. He said reports of a "graceful exit" for U.S. troops are wrong.
The president's comments came a day after a leaked White House memo raised doubts about Maliki's ability to lead.
The two leaders were asked about the extraordinary influence that anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has over Maliki's government. Sadr has a very active militia but Maliki needs the cleric politically to help keep his government together. Maliki said he's not going to pit one part of his government against another, but neither Maliki nor Bush had specific comments about Sadr.
Maliki abruptly cancelled an initial meeting with Bush and King Abdullah of Jordan, scheduled for Wednesday. Maliki explained that the meeting was not on his agenda.
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