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President Bush Reaffirms Support for Iraqi Prime Minister


Amid reports of tension between President Bush and Iraq's prime minister, Mr. Bush has reaffirmed his support for Nouri al-Maliki.

In a show of unity, President Bush and the Iraqi prime minister have announced they are forming a high-level working group to improve security in Iraq. The announcement followed a nearly hour-long video conference call between the two leaders Saturday.

In a joint-statement, they said they have three common goals: to accelerate the pace of training the Iraqi Security Force; to have Iraqis assume command and control over those forces; and to transfer responsibility for security to the Iraqi government.

Cracks appeared in the U.S.-Iraqi relationship earlier this week, after U.S. officials appeared to press the Iraqi leader to accept a timetable of political reforms, aimed at ending his country's rising sectarian violence. Mr. al-Maliki said no outside power could decide his government's agenda, and added that he had his own plan for ending the bloodshed.

Mr. Bush said Saturday that Mr. al-Maliki is a sovereign leader, whom the United States is assisting, and not "America's man in Iraq."

The war in Iraq has become increasingly unpopular among Americans, and with just 10 days to go before U.S. legislative elections, President Bush was campaigning Saturday for a Republican congressman, and defending his Iraq policy. Mr. Bush assured Republican supporters in the Midwest state of Indiana that his party has a plan for victory in Iraq.

"We have got a security track, so that these Iraqis can defend themselves," said Mr. Bush. "We have got a political track so that the government is of and by and for the people. We have got an economic track to help them realize vast potential of that country. We will succeed. The only way we will not succeed is if we leave before the job is done."

Meanwhile, opposition Democrats urged voters to give control of Congress to their party, saying they would find a real way forward in Iraq.

Virginia Senate candidate Jim Webb, whose son is a Marine serving in Iraq, said in the Democrats' weekly radio address that what he called President Bush's "incompetence" in Iraq has undermined the war on terrorism.

"Since 2003, President Bush has laid out nine different plans for victory in Iraq, none of them serious, and none of them workable," said Mr. Webb. "And most seriously, this incompetence has hindered our ability to fight international terror."

If Democrats assume control of one or both houses of Congress through the November 7 elections, that could open the way for a new bipartisan effort to push for changes in the U.S. policy toward Iraq.