US President George Bush says the United States can now begin bringing home some of its troops from Iraq, because key security objectives have been met. In a televised address to the American public Thursday evening, September 13th, Mr. Bush endorsed the recommendation of his top military commander in Iraq to withdraw 30,000 US troops by mid 2008.
Mr. Bush said he will follow the recommendations of General David Petraeus to permanently withdraw 5,700 US troops from Iraq by December. Mr. Bush also approved the reduction of US combat brigades in Iraq from 20 to 15 by next July. That move would reduce US troop strength in Iraq to about 130-thousand, the same level before the "surge" of 30,000 additional troops this year.
U.S. PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH
"Americans want our country to be safe and our troops to begin coming home from Iraq. Yet those of us who believe success in Iraq is essential to our security, and those who believe we should bring our troops home, have been at odds. Now because of the measure of success we are seeing in Iraq, we can begin seeing troops come home."
Mr. Bush echoed statements by General Petraeus that local Sunni leaders in al Anbar province have joined US and Iraqi troops in reclaiming the area from al Qaida. And he again linked success in Iraq to safety for Americans from terrorists.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:
"If Iraq's young democracy can turn back these enemies, it will mean a more hopeful Middle East and a more secure America. This ally has placed its trust in the United States. And tonight, our moral and strategic imperatives are one: We must help Iraq defeat those who threaten its future and also threaten ours."
In their much-anticipated testimony to US lawmakers earlier in the week, General Petraeus and the US Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker urged Congress to give Iraq more time to meet benchmarks for political, economic and military progress. They also said Iraq's security forces are increasingly taking the lead from US troops.
But many US lawmakers expressed doubt Iraqi forces can handle the job once American troops leave. And Mr. Bush acknowledged Thursday that Iraq's political leaders must work harder toward reconciliation.
However, he appealed to Congress to put aside partisan differences and support his and General Petraeus's recommendations.
In his political party's response to Mr. Bush's address, Democratic Senator Jack Reed a former U.S. Army Ranger and paratrooper said America must change course in Iraq.
SENATOR JACK REED, D-RHODE ISLAND
"We have put forth a plan to responsibly and rapidly begin a reduction of our troops.
Our proposal cannot erase the mistakes of the last four and a half years, but we can chart a better way forward"
Mr. Bush said he has directed General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker to deliver an another report on Iraq to Congress next March.