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Bush Warns of Challenges Ahead in Iraq After Surprise Visit


President Bush has given the American people an account of his surprise trip to Baghdad. Just hours after his middle-of-the-night return to Washington, the president held a news conference at the White House.

President Bush says he was inspired to visit the capital of a free and democratic Iraq, and impressed with what he saw.

He told reporters he had some doubts as to whether Iraq's new leaders had the will to succeed. He said the only way to ease those doubts was to go to Baghdad and meet them face-to-face.

"Sitting here in America, wondering whether or not, these people have got what it takes creates some uncertainty," said Mr. Bush. "I have eliminated that uncertainty."

Speaking to reporters in the White House Rose Garden, the president repeated the promise he made to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and members of his cabinet. Mr. Bush said he assured them the United States stands with them.

"I was impressed with the prime minister and I am impressed by his team," he added. "I told him that America is a nation that meets its commitments and keeps its word. And that is what we are going to do in Iraq."

The president said the Iraqi government is determined to succeed, and added that after visiting Baghdad, he is convinced it will meet its goals. But he admitted the challenges are huge. Mr. Bush said once again that violence in Iraq will never be completely eliminated. However, he quickly added it can and must be significantly reduced.

"….and the reason why it is important for the violence to be reduced is, obviously, one, to save lives, but also to give confidence to the Iraqi people that their government will be able to sustain itself and govern itself and meet the needs of the people," he noted.

The president was asked if a reduction in violence could lead to a drawdown in U.S. forces. He refused to make any commitments, saying any reduction in troops would be determined by the U.S. commander in Iraq, General George Casey, in conjunction with Iraqi defense officials.

He noted that during his visit General Casey provided an update on military matters in Iraq, including the stepped-up security operation just launched in Baghdad and the aftermath of the air raid that killed terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi last week.

"He told me that Iraqi and coalition forces are still on the offense, that they launched a series of raids on terrorist targets across Iraq," Mr. Bush said. "We have got new intelligence from those raids that will enable us to keep the pressure on the foreigners and local Iraqis that are killing innocent lives."

Throughout the roughly hour-long question and answer session, the president appeared upbeat and showed little signs of fatigue, saying it was an exciting trip and that he appreciated the fact he was able to go to Baghdad.

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