U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has reaffirmed his intention to withdraw American combat forces from Iraq after taking office. Mr. Obama spoke as a top member of the Bush administration admitted that U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq after the 2003 invasion were lacking.
While campaigning for the presidency, Barack Obama's most often repeated pledge was to bring home American combat forces from Iraq within 16 months of entering the White House.
Since the election, the United States and Iraq have finalized an accord that stipulates a 2011 deadline for withdrawing U.S. troops.
Speaking on NBC television's Meet The Press program, Mr. Obama said he remains committed to ending the Iraq War, although he gave no specific dates for doing so.
"One of my first acts as president will be to bring in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to bring in my national security team, and design a plan for a responsible drawdown," said Barack Obama. "When I began the campaign, there was a lot of controversy about the idea of starting to draw down troops. Now, we have seen this administration sign an agreement with the Iraqi government, creating a timeframe for removing U.S. troops."
The president-elect, who opposed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq while serving as an Illinois state senator, said he wants to act quickly but also to preserve stability in Iraq. He said there must be a mechanism for Iraq to assume more responsibility for its security without allowing a resurgence of terrorism in the country.
In a recent interview, President Bush said the greatest regret of his presidency was the intelligence failure that led the United States to believe that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. In the past, Mr. Bush has admitted that mistakes were made in attempting to secure the country after the Iraqi ruler's ouster.
Speaking on the Fox News Sunday television program, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the structure of America's presence in Iraq was not up to the task of helping to forge a democracy while maintaining security in the face of a violent insurgency.
Rice was asked whether former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who played a key role in deciding U.S. troop levels in Iraq after the invasion, bore the blame.
"Look, I take responsibility for that, too," said Condoleezza Rice. "We just did not have the right structure."
At the same time, Rice said she believes that, in the long run, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein will prove to be what she termed "a strategic achievement" for America. She said Iraq will be at the core of what she described as "a different kind of Middle East".