Bush: war in Iraq on its way to being won
By DEB RIECHMANN,Associated Press Writer AP - Sunday, December 7
WASHINGTON - President George W. Bush said Saturday the U.S.-Iraqi security pact approved this week calls for 150,000 American troops to be withdrawn from Iraq in two stages _ all by the end of 2011.
The first stage begins next year when U.S. troops pull back from Baghdad and other Iraqi cities by the end of June, Bush said in his weekly radio address. The new pact requires all U.S. troops to leave the country by the end of 2011.
"Only a few years ago, such an agreement was unimaginable," Bush said. "Chaos and violence were consuming Iraq. Terrorists were seizing new ground and using violence to divide the Iraqi people along sectarian lines. And the nation was nearing the point of political collapse and civil war."
The agreement approved by Iraq's three-member presidential council goes into effect next month _ even though Iraqi voters will have the final say in a referendum by the end of July. It replaces a U.N. mandate that gives the U.S.-led coalition sweeping powers to conduct military operations and detain people without charge if they were believed to pose a security threat.
The war, in its sixth year, has claimed the lives of more than 4,200 U.S. military personnel. It has dominated most of Bush's presidency and will define his legacy. He credits increased stability in Iraq to last year's U.S. military buildup, which President-elect Barack Obama opposed.
"Today, violence is down dramatically," Bush said. "Our forces have struck powerful blows against al-Qaida. The Iraqi military is growing in capability, taking the lead in the fight against the extremists, and working across sectarian lines."
Last month, attacks fell to the lowest monthly level since the war began in 2003. But recent high-profile bombings are continuing to try to shake public confidence and tensions remain among rival ethnic and religious groups. It's unclear what will happen after U.S. troops start withdrawing.
Other events also will determine the course of violence in Iraq: Provincial elections after the first of the year; efforts by the Iraqis to assume more control of Baghdad; and the integration of former Sunni insurgents into the security forces or civilian government jobs.
If those steps go smoothly, Iraqis will have a real chance of maintaining the security gains since the U.S. troop buildup of last year. If not, Obama will have to decide whether to slow the troop withdrawal despite his promise to remove American combat troops within the first 16 months in office.
"The battle in Iraq has required a large amount of time and a large amount of money," Bush said.
"Thousands of our finest citizens have given their lives to make our country safer and bring us to this new day. The war in Iraq is not yet over, but thanks to these agreements and the courage of our men and women in Iraq, it is decisively on its way to being won."
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