President Bush says he is not ready to order further U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq, and there will be shorter combat tours for new deployments starting in August. VOA White House Correspondent Paula Wolfson has details.
The president says he is following the recommendation of the top U.S. commander in Iraq - General David Petraeus - on troop levels.
He says once the last of the extra brigades deployed last year come home in July, the military will get 45 days to study the situation on the ground and determine if further withdrawals are feasible.
"General Petraeus says he will need time to consolidate his forces and assess how this reduced American presence will affect conditions on the ground before making measured recommendations on further reductions," Mr. Bush said. "And I have told him he will have all the time he needs."
That means roughly 140,000 U.S. troops are likely to be on duty in Iraq when Americans go to the polls in November to choose a new president.
President Bush says they will build on progress made during the so-called surge.
"Some have suggested that this period of evaluation will be a pause," he said. "That is misleading because none of our operations in Iraq will be on hold. Instead we will use the months ahead to take advantage of the opportunities created by the surge."
Mr. Bush says the challenges remaining are serious and complex. And in a nod to the strains the war has placed on members of the military, he says combat tours will be cut from 15 months to 12 months starting in August for troops deploying in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Our nation owes a special thanks to the soldiers and families who have supported this extended deployment," the president said. "We owe a special thanks to all who serve in the cause of freedom in Iraq."
The president's brief address from the White House followed two days of testimony before Congress by Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker. The president says they will soon be heading back to Iraq with stops in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states along the way.
He says these nations have a role in Iraq's future. He says Iran does as well, noting Tehran can be a force for good or ill.
"If Iran makes the right choice, America will encourage a peaceful relationship between Iran and Iraq," Mr. Bush said. "If Iran makes the wrong choice, America will act to protect our interests and our troops and our Iraqi partners."
Congressional critics are lashing out at the path outlined by the president. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the Bush administration's war policy is a failure on many levels.
"The president has taken us into a failed war," she said. "He has taken us deeply into debt. And that debt is taking us into recession."
Pelosi says the president is "dragging out the war so he can leave the tough decisions for his successor."