WASHINGTON – In a somber but combative pre-election review of a long and brutal war, President Bush conceded Wednesday that the United States is taking heavy casualties in Iraq and said, “I know many Americans are not satisfied with the situation” there.
“I’m not satisfied either,” he said at a speech and question and answer session at the White House 13 days before midterm elections.
Despite conceding painful losses, Bush said victory was essential in Iraq as part of the broader war on terror.
“We’re winning and we will win, unless we leave before the job is done,” he said.
Bush said that as those fighting American and Iraqi forces change their strategies, the United States is also adjusting its military tactics.
“Americans have no intention of taking sides in a sectarian struggle or standing in the crossfire between rival factions,” he said.
Several Democratic critics have said that is precisely what the administration is risking with an open-ended commitment of American forces, at a time that a year-old Iraqi government gropes for a compromise that can satisfy Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish political interests.
Bush spoke as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the U.S. government has a right to revise its policies as it sees fit. At the same time, the Iraqi leader said talk of timetables for troop withdrawals “is not coming from the inner circles in the U.S. government,” but the product of the American election campaign. “And that does not concern us much,” al-Maliki said.
“I affirm that this government represents the will of the people and no one has the right to impose a timetable on it,” the Iraqi told reporters.
At his news conference, Bush sought a middle ground in terms of pressing the Iraqis to accept more of the responsibility for their own fate and said that “a fixed timetable for withdrawal in my judgment means defeat.”
“We are making it clear that America’s patience is not unlimited,” Bush added. “We will not put more pressure on the Iraqi government than it can bear.”
Bush spoke as polls showed the public has become strongly opposed to the war, and increasing numbers of Republican candidates have signaled impatience with the president’s policies.
As he has repeatedly, Bush predicted that Republicans would hold control of the House and Senate in two weeks’ time, despite widespread predictions to the contrary. He jabbed at Democrats who he said are “dancing in the end zone” or measuring the drapes for new offices.