Monday, September 03, 2007

Bush, in Iraq, Sees Possible Reduction in Troop Levels

New York Times

Published: September 3, 2007

AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq, Sept. 3 — On a surprise visit to Iraq today for meetings with his commanders and top Iraqi officials, President Bush raised the possibility that some American troops could be withdrawn from Iraq if security there continues to improve.

Mr. Bush told reporters after talks with Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, and Ryan C. Crocker, the ambassador to Iraq, that they “tell me that if the kind of success we are now seeing here continues, it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces.”

“I urge members of both parties in Congress to listen to what they have to say,” the president said. “Congress shouldn’t jump to conclusions until the general and the ambassador report.”

Mr. Bush, who took no questions, did not say how large a troop withdrawal was possible. Nor did he say whether he envisioned forces being withdrawn sooner than next spring, when the first of the additional 30,000 troops Mr. Bush sent to Iraq earlier this year are due to come home anyway.

Administration officials were quick to point out that no troop drawdown may be possible before then if security deteriorates, as it has before.

But Mr. Bush’s statement and his arrival at this sprawling American air base after flying in secret from Washington was a dramatic move with a clear political goal — to shift the focus this week away from Congress, where a series of hearings on the administration’s Iraq strategy are planned and to buttress White House contentions that its efforts in Iraq are beginning to produce results.

Departing Washington late Sunday in secret, Mr. Bush flew with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice directly to this sprawling air base in Anbar Province, the Sunni stronghold that has seen significant security improvements in recent months. There he was joined in the 110-degree heat by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staffs, who had flown separately.

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