Bush criticises Democrats over calls for Iraq withdrawal

US President George Bush today accused Democrats of conducting a political debate on the war in Iraq while delaying action on money to upgrade equipment and give US troops a pay raise.

US President George Bush today accused Democrats of conducting a political debate on the war in Iraq while delaying action on money to upgrade equipment and give US troops a pay raise.

“It is time to rise above partisanship, stand behind our troops in the field, and give them everything they need to succeed,” Bush at the White House after meeting with veterans and military families.

Bush spoke two days after Senate Republicans thwarted a Democratic proposal to pull out troops from Iraq.

Bush said that instead of approving money for the war, “the Democratic leaders chose to have a political debate on a precipitous withdrawal of our troops from Iraq.”

Despite Bush’s suggestion that the bill is a must-pass measure that would pay for critical war programmes, the legislation is not an appropriations bill that feeds military spending accounts.

Called the defence authorisation bill, the legislation is more a policy-type measure used by Congress to influence the management of major defence programmes, set goals and guide the 2008 military spending bill.

The bill is needed, however, to authorise military pay raises. Congress typically does not finish the bill until later in the year, and the pay raises are applied retroactively.

Meanwhile, the White House said it has not changed the timetable for assessing progress in Iraq and that September remains the next critical timeframe for judging the course of the war.

A day earlier, a top general said a solid judgment may not come until November.

The officer, Lt Gen. Raymond Odierno, suggested his comments may have been misinterpreted. Another general, Maj Gen W Gaskin, commanding in a province touted as a model of progress – said it would take two years before Iraqis can be self-sufficient in running their government and security forces.

And yet another general, Maj Gen. Richard Lynch, who leads the 3rd Infantry Division – said his area of responsibility south of Baghdad may need through summer 2008 to consolidate recent gains.

Gaskin spoke to Defence Department reporters by video conference from Iraq. He said coalition efforts “have turned the corner ... broken the cycle of violence in Anbar.”

But, he added, “you cannot buy, nor can you fast-forward experience. It has to be worked out.”

Pressure is building on the administration to change course in the war, now in its fifth year and with a death toll of at least 3,628 members of the US military and many thousands of Iraqis.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters today that September is still a critical date for members of Congress to assess the war’s progress.

When asked whether he would be satisfied to wait until November, McConnell said “September is the month we’re looking at.”

White House press secretary Tony Snow said that despite widespread scepticism in Congress, there have been significant results one month after the US completed a build-up of 21,500 additional combat troops. He said the administration was not trying to move the goal posts for assessing the buildup, from September until November.

In his remarks, Bush said the war has had “frustrating setbacks. It’s also had important successes.” He pointed to the turnaround in Anbar province and the capture of one of al Qaida’s top leaders in Iraq.

“Our nation deserves a serious debate about Iraq,” Bush said, “because the outcome of this conflict will have enormous consequences for our country.”

“Failure in Iraq would send an unmistakable signal to America’s enemies that our country can be bullied into retreat,” the president said. “America’s involvement in Iraq does not have to end this way. A free and stable Iraq is still in reach.”

Most lawmakers have hoped that Iraq would show more signs of stability, long before the 2008 US elections.

Republicans in particular have thought that, if substantial gains could not be found by September, then Bush would have to rethink his military strategy, which relies on 158,000 US troops.

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