Bush: Iraqi Troops Not Ready to Take Over

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

President Bush pointedly acknowledged Monday that U.S.-trained Iraqi troops are not ready to take over their country's security, and cautioned that next month's elections there are only the beginning of a long process toward democracy.

"I certainly don't expect the process to be trouble-free," Bush said as he addressed next year's agenda ranging from overhauling Social Security to the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq.

In the 17th news conference of his presidency, Bush accused insurgents in Iraq of trying to "disrupt the democratic process" and urged the American people to remain patient well beyond the elections.

"The elections in January are the beginning of a process and it is important for the American people to understand that," he said.

He said "I would call the results mixed" on a U.S. effort to put Iraqi security in the hands of its own people.

"When the heat got on, they left the battlefield — that is unacceptable," he said. "We are under no illusion that this Iraqi force is not ready to fight in toto."

On a tough issue at home, a growing number of lawmakers, including Republicans, voicing no confidence in Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. But Bush defended his Pentagon chief.

"He's doing a very fine job," Bush said.

Critics have raised questions about whether enough U.S. troops are in Iraq to bring security for the elections. More than 1,300 American troops have died since the war began in March 2003. Also, soldiers have complained about long deployments and a lack of armored vehicles and other equipment.

Rumsfeld agreed to Bush's request this month to stay in the Cabinet during the president's second term and has won repeated votes of confidence from the White House since.

On domestic issues, Bush said he will submit a federal budget that will cut the deficit in half in five years and maintain strict spending discipline, while funding important priorities like the military and homeland security. His fiscal 2006 budget is due to Congress in February.

"We will submit a budget that fits the times. It will provide every tool and resource to the military, will protect the homeland, and meet other priorities of the government," he said.

But he added he would "maintain strict discipline in spending tax dollars."

On Social Security, Bush said he recognized that there would be "difficult choices" but he wouldn't lay out specifics until Congress has a chance to address the issue.

"The first step in this process is for members of Congress to realize we have a problem," he said.

Without any changes, Social Security would begin paying more in benefits than it takes in by 2018.

Bush defended his close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom he has had disagreements over the war on terror and, more recently, over the disputed elections in Ukraine. U.S. and Soviet officials said Monday that Bush and Putin would meet in Slovakia on Feb. 24 as part of an effort to improve U.S. relations with European nations.

"The relationship's an important relationship and I would call the relationship a good relationship," Bush said, adding that he's talked with Putin about getting Russia admitted to the World Trade Organization.

Bush also said he work toward giving both Russia and the United States equal access to nuclear storage sites.

Earlier this month, Putin said he could not imagine how Iraqi elections could be held under "conditions of occupation by foreign forces," a pointed reference to the United States.

On a tough issue at home, a growing number of lawmakers, including Republicans, voicing no confidence in Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. But Bush defended his Pentagon chief.

"He's doing a very fine job," Bush said.

Critics have raised questions about whether enough U.S. troops are in Iraq to bring security for the elections. More than 1,300 American troops have died since the war began in March 2003. Also, soldiers have complained about long deployments and a lack of armored vehicles and other equipment.

Rumsfeld agreed to Bush's request this month to stay in the Cabinet during the president's second term and has won repeated votes of confidence from the White House since.

Bush also defended his failed nomination of former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik to be the Homeland Security secretary. The controversy over the nomination, which Kerik ultimately withdrew, raised questions about the ability of the White House to fully vet its nominees.

"In retrospect he made the right decision to pull his name down," Bush said. "The lessons learned is continue to vet and ask questions."

Bush didn't tip his hand about who might be nominated to be the new national intelligence director — a post created by the largest overhaul of U.S. intellience-gathering in a half century that Bush signed into law last week.

The new law creates a national intelligence center and a powerful new position of national intelligence direction to oversee the nation's 15 separate intelligence agencies.

"I'm going to find somebody who knows something about intelligence," Bush said, "and capable and honest and ready to do the job."


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