WASHINGTON (AFP) – The White House downplayed President George W. Bush’s suggestion that US troops would still be in Iraq when his term ends in January 2009.
Bush answered a question at a news conference Tuesday by saying the decision to withdraw US troops from Iraq would be made “by future presidents and future governments of Iraq.”
He refused, meanwhile, to specify a date after which US troops would no longer be on Iraqi soil.
Despite his refusal to set a deadline, Bush’s reference to “future presidents” seemed the clearest indication of his thoughts about the duration of the US deployment in Iraq.
“The question was … when will there be zero or no American troops in Iraq,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. “So he was referring to that specific question.”
The president did not mean that a strong military presence would be remain nearly six years after the US-led invasion, but merely was addressing a theoretical question about when the troops will be withdrawn, McClellan told reporters.
The United States has 133,000 troops in Iraq. With more than 2,300 killed there since the March 2003 invasion, the daily spectacle of violence and the exorbitant cost of the war, the majority of Americans favor either a partial or total withdrawal.
Bush continued Wednesday to press his case for the war in Iraq. In a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, the president reiterated that the decision on the troop level would take into account the recommendations of military commanders on the ground and growing effectiveness of Iraqi security forces.