Bush announces partial pullback of troops from Iraq

By Xinhua

Washington : US President George W. Bush has announced a partial pullback of about 30,000 troops from Iraq by next summer, while warning a full withdrawal could endanger the Iraqi government’s survival.

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“Because of the measure of success we are seeing in Iraq, we can begin seeing troops come home,” Bush said Thursday in a prime-time televised address to the nation.

The president said 2,200 Marines are coming home immediately and will not be replaced, and an Army brigade of 3,500 will be out of Iraq by Christmas.

Noting that troops must “return on success”, the president said he will further withdraw five brigades by mid-July 2008 – approximately 23,000 troops, leaving about 137,000 US troops in place by next summer.

“The principle guiding my decisions on troop levels in Iraq is ‘return on success’,” Bush said.

“The more successful we are, the more American troops can return home. Our success in meeting these objectives now allows us to begin bringing some of our troops home.”

While Bush attempts to portray the redeployment as a troop withdrawal, there will actually be 7,000 more troops in Iraq next summer than there were before Bush deployed additional forces to Iraq in January as part of a troop surge plan to quell sectarian violence.

In his more than 16 minute address, Bush also noted that any troop pullback would be heavily conditioned on stability in Iraq – far from the rapid withdrawal of troops wanted by Democratic leaders in Congress.

Bush also attempted to convince the public that he is applying pressure on Iraqi national leaders to work together to achieve political reconciliation.

“The government has not met its own legislative benchmarks, and in my meetings with Iraqi leaders, I have made it clear that they must,” Bush said.

The president also made it clear that US engagement in Iraq will go beyond his presidency, which ends in January 2009.

Trying to quieten his critics, Bush said his new plan “makes it possible, for the first time in years, for people who have been on opposite sides of this difficult debate to come together”.

The president will also attempt to describe his Iraq strategy as part of a larger policy in the Middle East.

He will also frame the Iraq conflict as he has in the past, as a key component of a broader war against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

“In Iraq, an ally of the US is fighting for its survival. 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,” Bush said.

The president’s address comes after two days of testimonies on Capitol Hill by Gen. David Petraeus, the top US military official in Iraq, and ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, the top diplomat, telling lawmakers that the troop surge strategy has had “uneven success”.