AMMAN,(Reuters) – U.S. President George W. Bush strongly backed Iraq’s prime minister on Thursday, saying Iraqi forces would be prepared more quickly to take over security and that Washington was not looking for a “graceful exit”.
Bush supported Nuri al-Maliki as the “right guy” for Iraq at talks in Jordan amid spiralling sectarian bloodshed between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims that has overshadowed an already intractable Sunni insurgency in Iraq. “Part of the prime minister’s frustrations is that he doesn’t have the tools necessary to take care of those who break the law,” Bush said after the talks. “We talked today about accelerating authority to the prime minister so he can do what the Iraqi people expect him to do,” Bush told a joint news conference with Maliki.
U.S. troops were in Iraq to “get the job done” and would stay as long as the Baghdad government wanted them there. “We agreed on the importance of speeding up the training of Iraq security forces,” Bush said, touching on a long-standing U.S. goal of transferring control to Iraqis. “It’s in our interests to help liberty prevail in the Middle East, starting with Iraq. And that’s why this business about graceful exit simply has no realism to it at all.”
A U.S. official, who asked not to be named, said later the process was a delicate one. “On the one hand you want Iraqis to be in control as quickly as possible. On the other hand, you don’t want them to find themselves unprepared or incapable of handling the situations as they arise,” the official said.
Bush was speaking after reports the Iraq Study Group will recommend the U.S. military shift from combat to a support role in Iraq, and will call for a regional conference that could lead to direct U.S. talks with Iran and Syria, both accused by Washington of fomenting violence in their neighbour.
Maliki said his country wanted good ties with its neighbours but warned against external meddling. “Iraq is for Iraqis. Its frontiers are defended and we will not allow them to be violated or let people interfere in our internal affairs,” he said at the news conference.
A source familiar with the deliberations of the bipartisan Iraqi Study Group said the idea was for U.S. combat forces to pull back to bases in Iraq and in the region over the next year or so. “It’s basically a redeployment,” the source said.
The panel is to present its report to Bush on Dec. 6.
Back in Baghdad, Maliki stressed that the renewal this week of a U.N. mandate covering deployment of U.S.-led forces in Iraq until the end of 2007 introduced language saying the goal was to transfer full security control to the Iraqis. “The international resolution … has three new improvements or demands: our taking over security responsibility, our taking over the responsibility for building our forces and taking over the leadership and control of Iraqi forces,” Maliki said.
Bush declared support for Maliki after U.S. officials insisted the Iraqi leader was not offended by a critical White House memo and had not snubbed Bush in Amman on Wednesday when the two had been expected to hold an initial meeting. “He’s the right guy for Iraq and we’re going to help him and it’s in our interest to help him,” Bush said.
Bush said he and Maliki had ruled out any idea of dividing Iraq as a way to halt rampant sectarian violence. “The prime minister made clear that splitting his country into parts, as some have suggested, is not what the Iraqi people want and that any partition of Iraq would only lead to an increase in sectarian violence. I agree,” he said.
The emir of neighbouring Kuwait was quoted as saying a U.S. pullout would not stabilise Iraq. “On the contrary, the situation would worsen and we would see a civil war of great intensity for which the whole world would pay the price,” Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah told the French daily Le Figaro.
Bush had expected to see Maliki on Wednesday, along with Jordan’s King Abdullah. He was told on the way from Latvia, where he attended a NATO summit, that the Jordanians and Iraqis had decided against a three-way meeting, a U.S. official said. In the end, Abdullah met both leaders separately.
U.S. officials insisted the change had nothing to do with a memo by White House national security adviser Stephen Hadley that questioned Maliki’s ability to control the turmoil in Iraq.