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Iraq Transition

Bush acknowledges setbacks in Iraq

Story Highlights

• Bush says he is not satisfied with the Iraq situation
• Responsibility for setbacks "rests with me," Bush says
• U.S. will establish "benchmarks" for Iraqi government but not a timetable
• President Bush says midterms will be referendum on security and economy
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush said Wednesday that he is concerned about the situation in Iraq, but it is "critical" that U.S. troops remain there and oust the insurgents.

"I know many Americans are not satisfied with the situation in Iraq," Bush said in a White House news conference. "I'm not satisfied either."

Accountability in Iraq ultimately "rests with me," the president said, warning Americans not to be discouraged by their discontent over developments in the war.

"We cannot allow our dissatisfaction to turn into disillusionment about our purpose in this war," Bush said. "We must look at every success. We must not look at every success of the enemy as a mistake on our part, cause for an investigation or a reason to call for our troops to come home."

Bush emphasized that the United States must continue "adjusting our tactics across the country to meet the changing threat."

The president flatly rejected the idea that troops should be withdrawn on a fixed timetable and said benchmarks were a better way to manage troop levels.

"If I did not think our mission in Iraq was vital to America's security, I'd bring our troops home tomorrow," Bush said. (Watch the president explain how Iraq affects American security -- 1:52 Video)

As for sending more U.S. troops to bolster the force of 144,000 already there, Bush said he would leave that to his top commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey.

"I will send more troops to Iraq if General Casey says I need more troops in Iraq to achieve victory," he said. "That's the way I've been running this war."

Iraqi onus

The U.S. will win the war "unless we leave before the job is done," Bush said. He cautioned, however, that "a military solution alone will not stop violence."

"In the end, the Iraqi people and their government will have to make the difficult decisions necessary to solve these problems," he said.

"We're also working to help the Iraqi government achieve a political solution that brings together Shia and Sunnis and Kurds and other ethnic and religious groups," the president said. "Americans have no intention of taking sides in a sectarian struggle or standing in the crossfire between rival factions."

Bush praised Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's efforts to end sectarian violence and said he is "the right man" to achieve victory in Iraq.

The president also expressed confidence in Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's understanding that the best way to fight the war is "to make sure our troops are ready, that morale is high, that we transform the nature of our military to meet the threats, and that we give our commanders on the ground the flexibility necessary to make the tactical changes to achieve victory."

Bush said the Iraq war, which he called an "ideological conflict," has had its setbacks, including the bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Iraq, the absence of weapons of mass destruction and "the continued loss of some of America's finest sons and daughters." (Watch why Bush thinks the U.S. is whipping the insurgents -- 1:45 Video)

However, achievements like the capture of Saddam Hussein, national elections and the death of al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi are "encouraging," he said.

U.S. must stay in Iraq

"Despite the difficulties and bloodshed it remains critical that America defeats the enemy in Iraq by helping Iraq build a free nation that can sustain itself and defend itself," Bush said.

Bush conceded that victory is "going to take a long time" and the United States "will not put more pressure on the Iraqi government than it can bear." He also noted, however, that the United States won't wait indefinitely for conditions to improve in the war-torn nation.

"My administration will carefully consider any proposal that will help us achieve victory," he said. "We've got patience but not unlimited patience."

Bush's comments came amid polls that show widespread dissatisfaction with the Bush administration's policies in Iraq, and a day after the Bush administration announced it is tossing out its "stay the course" mantra on the Iraq war.

But the rising tide of anti-war sentiment does not lead Bush to believe that Democrats will take control of Congress in the November 7 midterms, he said.

"The American people are going to decide, and they're going to decide this race based upon who best to protect the American people and who best to keep the taxes low," he said. "I think the coming election is a referendum on these two things." (Watch why Bush thinks Democrats shouldn't be dancing in the end zone -- 4:17 Video)

Bush explained that despite dropping the war's "stay the course" rallying cry, the objective remains the same even if the tactics may vary.

"Our goals are unchanging. We are flexible in our methods to achieving those goals," Bush said.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said the president's speech demonstrated that the administration's Iraq policy, "like Iraq itself, is in complete disarray."

Reid, D-Nevada, also accused the president of sending mixed messages on timetables and troop levels.

"One day, our senior military leaders indicate more troops may be needed. The next day the president discounts that option," Reid said in a written statement. "One day, it's stay the course. The next day it's change the course."

"It is increasingly clear that the president does not know what to do to stop the escalating violence in Iraq," Reid said. "The American people have had enough of this administration's costly mistakes and politically motivated misstatements."

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina made similar comments to The Associated Press earlier this week, saying that Rumsfeld and the generals leading the war must devise a "game plan" to end the violence in Iraq. (Full story)

"We're on the verge of chaos, and the current plan is not working," Graham said Monday, according to AP.

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President Bush said Wednesday that the U.S. will win the war in Iraq "unless we leave before the job is done."


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


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