| WASHINGTON, Sept. 13, 2007 President Bush said tonight that he accepts Army Gen. David H. Petraeus recommendations on the U.S. strategy in Iraq and reduced troop levels.
Bush said in a White House address that the strategy implemented eight months ago, which included a 30,000-troop surge, has enabled coalition troops and Iraqi security forces to make progress against al Qaeda and other extremists. He cited turnarounds in Baghdad, where violence is down, and in Anbar province, a region previously considered lost to terrorists.
While acknowledging that the challenge in Iraq remains formidable, Bush said that testimony to Congress this week by Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker led him to conclude that conditions have improved enough to begin reducing the U.S. force.
The premise of our strategy is that securing the Iraqi population is the foundation for all other progress, the president said. The goal of the surge is to provide that security, and to help prepare Iraqi forces to maintain it.
Success in meeting these objectives now allows us to begin bringing some of our troops home, he said.
Petraeus recommended that a Marine expeditionary unit deployed as part of the surge not be replaced when it leaves Iraq later this month and that one of 20 U.S. combat brigades not be replaced when it redeploys in mid-December. Four more brigade combat teams and two surge Marine battalions will redeploy without replacement during the first seven months of 2008.
This plan, which Petraeus emphasized must be carried out with close scrutiny to changing conditions on the ground, would bring down the U.S. presence in Iraq from 20 to 15 brigade combat teams by mid-July.
Bush said the principle that guided his decisions on troop levels in Iraq was "return on success."
The more successful we are, the more American troops can return home, he said. And in all we do, I will ensure that our commanders on the ground have the troops and flexibility they need to defeat the enemy.
Iraqi leaders support the vision of a reduced U.S. troop presence in Iraq, the president said. But, he added, they also understand that their countrys success will require U.S. political, economic and security engagement that will extend beyond the Bush presidency.
These Iraqi leaders have asked for an enduring relationship with America, he said. And we are ready to begin building that relationship, in a way that protects our interests in the region and requires many fewer American troops.
The president conceded that political progress in Iraq hasnt occurred as quickly as hoped. The government has not met its own legislative benchmarks, and in my meetings with Iraqi leaders, I have made it clear that they must, he said.
The Iraqi government must exert the same determination it is demonstrating as it takes on extremists to achieve reconciliation, Bush said. He acknowledged that this represents an enormous undertaking after more than three decades of tyranny and division.
Bush expressed optimism about reconciliation taking place at the local level. The key now is to link this progress in the provinces to progress in Baghdad, he said. As local politics change, so will national politics.
He emphasized that Iraqs national leaders are making progress in other areas. For example, theyve passed a budget and are sharing oil revenues with the provinces. Many of the positive developments arent recognized because they dont make headlines, Bush said, but they do make a difference.
The president disputed claims from some corners that gains being made in Iraq have come too late. It is never too late to deal a blow to al Qaeda, he said. It is never too late to advance freedom. And it is never too late to support our troops in a fight they can win.
Now is no time to abandon Iraq, a U.S. ally fighting for its survival, Bush said. What happens in Iraq will have a major impact, not just on Iraq and its neighbors, but on the United States, he said.
Terrorists and extremists who are at war with us around the world are seeking to topple Iraq's government, dominate the region, and attack us here at home, he said. Tonight, our moral and strategic imperatives are one: We must help Iraq defeat those who threaten its future and also threaten ours.
Bush conceded that the war has left divisions, but called on the country and Congress to come together to support the mission in Iraq.
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, he said.
Bush said the way forward he described tonight makes it possible, for the first time in years, for people who have been on opposite sides of this difficult debate to come together.
Failure in Iraq isnt an option, the president said. The success of a free Iraq is critical to the security of the United States, he said.
Whatever political party you belong to, whatever your position on Iraq, we should be able to agree that America has a vital interest in preventing chaos and providing hope in the Middle East, he said. We should be able to agree that we must defeat al Qaeda, counter Iran, help the Afghan government, work for peace in the Holy Land, and strengthen our military so we can prevail in the struggle against terrorists and extremists.
Realizing this vision will be difficult, but it is achievable, the president said. Our military commanders believe we can succeed. Our diplomats believe we can succeed, he said. And for the safety of future generations of Americans, we must succeed.