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Bush rebuffs new call for Iraq pullout plan

dpa German Press Agency
Published: Friday October 20, 2006

Washington- US President George W Bush on Friday rejected a new call by opposition Democrats for a troop withdrawal plan for Iraq, saying his goal for the country is "unchanging." Ending a week that saw the spokesman for US-led forces in Iraq call a recent upsurge in attacks "disheartening," the White House said Bush will discuss the situation with top US generals Saturday.

Bush's chief spokesman, Tony Snow, said the video conference had been planned for some time and was not an emergency measure.

The political skirmishing came less than three weeks before November 7 US Congressional elections, where public discontent over the war in Iraq has lifted the Democrats' chances of breaking 12 years of Republican control over both houses.

Democratic leaders in the Congress pilloried Bush over Iraq, saying nearly 200 US troops had been killed in the last 90 days, including 70 in the first weeks of October.

The country is sliding rapidly "into full-scale civil war" and the administration has "no effective plan for improvement" despite boosting the number of US troops in Baghdad, the Democrats said in an open letter to Bush.

"It has never been more clear that we need to change course in Iraq," the letter said. "Mr President, time is not on our side in Iraq."

Bush has said in recent days that he is open to changes in tactics in Iraq, a statement he repeated Friday in a speech in Washington.

But, he insisted, "Our goal in Iraq is clear and it's unchanging: a country that can sustain itself, a country that can govern itself, a country that can defend itself, and a country which will be an ally in the war against these extremists."

Snow ruled out an "artificial" pullout timetable.

"The president has made it clear that he is not going to do a phased withdrawal just for the hell of doing a phased withdrawal," he told reporters.

"It's a non-starter because you don't want to recreate the Balkans," he said.

Administration officials reiterated Friday that the US had planned all along to hand over security tasks to Iraqi forces whenever and wherever the situation allowed.

"And when they develop that ability to govern themselves or to provide for their own security, responsibilities are passed to them," Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said.

© 2006 dpa German Press Agency