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Iraq Transition

Bush: Politics won't force my hand on Iraq


• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide


George W. Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush said Wednesday domestic politics and dipping opinion polls will have no effect on his plan for a stable and democratic Iraq.

"One message I will continue to send to the enemy is, 'Don't count on us leaving before the mission is complete,' " Bush said at a White House news conference.

"Don't bet on American politics forcing my hand, because it's not going to happen," he said. "I'm going to make decisions not based upon politics but based upon what's best for the United States of America." (Transcript of news conference)

"What you hear from me no matter what these polls and all the business look like, is that it's worth it, it is necessary and we will succeed," Bush said.

The president said securing a democratic Iraq was a linchpin in the worldwide war on terror because an "international jihadist movement" wants the country for a haven.

"I understand how tough it is for the American people to reconcile death on their TV screens when the president's saying we're making incremental progress toward an important goal.

"But what I hope they understand is how important it is we succeed in Iraq, that the country is more dangerous -- the world is more dangerous if we don't," Bush said.

Less than 24 hours after a surprise visit to Baghdad, Bush said he was energized and inspired after a face-to-face meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. (Full story)

Speaking of the new Iraqi government, the president said he was "impressed with their desire to succeed." (Watch Bush explain how trip made a difference -- 12:11)

He said the United States would "keep its word" to help Iraq "govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself" and "build a lasting democracy in the Middle East."

Bush praised al-Maliki for his efforts on uniting Iraq's diverse religious and ethnic groups, divisions among which have led to sectarian attacks that have left thousands dead.

"People know they've got to reconcile the past in order to have a bright future," the president said. He said Washington will try to get Iraqi leaders together with "leaders from countries like South Africa to share their experiences with this new government to help them reconcile the past."

Bush also said the Iraqi government must "root out corruption at all levels."

He said the United States would encourage governments to "pay up" on pledges of aid made to Iraq, which he said are now $3 billion, about $10 billion short. He said he would send Deputy Treasury Secretary Bob Kimmitt and State Department counselor Phil Zelikow to the United Nations and around the world to secure financial support.

Bush's first trip to Iraq since November 2003 -- and his first to leave the security of Baghdad's airport -- came after al-Maliki finalized his Cabinet and terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed.

U.S. opinion polls suggest support for the war is continuing to decline, and some Democrats are increasing pressure to withdraw troops. In response, the White House in recent months has taken a more measured tone when talking about the war, staying away from exuberant claims while emphasizing that steady progress is being made despite the violence. (Full story)

Bush said that the Iraq trip was exciting and that it was "an unbelievable feeling" as he watched in the cockpit of Air Force One as the 747 descended into Baghdad, which he acknowledged was still "a dangerous place."

He touched briefly on other subjects during the news conference:

  • The president said he "took a sigh of relief " when it was announced Tuesday that his top political adviser, Karl Rove, would not face prosecution in the CIA leak case. (Full story)
  • Bush said he'd like to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, saying its existence "provides an excuse" for criticism that the United States doesn't uphold American values it espouses to the world. But he said security must be ensured before detainees are released.
  • He said the midterm elections will hinge on "who's got the plan that will enable us to succeed in Iraq and keep the economy growing."
  • The president urged Congress to make tax cuts permanent because he said those cuts help fuel economic growth.
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