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US Troops to Stay in Iraq After June 30,  Bush Says - 2004-05-15

President Bush says U.S. troops will stay in Iraq after the June 30 handover of power. Presumptive Democratic challenger John Kerry is questioning the president's military leadership.

President Bush says U.S. troops will stay in Iraq after the handover of power, until the country's new security forces can defend against what he called external aggression and internal subversion.

"Iraq's new interim government will assume a sovereign authority," said President Bush. "America will keep its commitment to the independence and national dignity of the Iraqi people. Yet, the vital mission of our military in helping to provide security will continue on July 1 and beyond."

U.S., British, Italian, and Japanese foreign ministers Friday said they would pull their troops out of Iraq, if the new interim administration decides it can handle the situation on its own. But Secretary of State Powell said it is highly unlikely they will be asked to leave.

In his weekly radio address, Mr. Bush said U.S. Marines are conducting joint patrols with Iraqi security forces in and around Fallujah to take back the city from what he calls Saddam loyalists, foreign fighters and other militants.

Around Najaf and Karbala, Mr. Bush says, U.S. and Iraqi forces are systematically dismantling militias loyal to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

"The Iraqi people oppose the actions of this illegal militia, and Shia religious leaders have called on it to withdraw," he said. "Recent days have seen demonstrations, in which ordinary Iraqis have taken to the streets, calling on the militia to withdraw from their cities and towns."

Mr. Bush also said those responsible for abuse of Iraqi prisoners in U.S. custody would be brought to justice.

"Our country has great respect for the Iraqi people, and we are determined to expose and punish the abuse of Iraqi detainees," he said. "Charges have been filed against seven soldiers, and the first trial is set to begin next week. My administration and our military are determined that such abuses never happen again."

In the Democratic response to the president's weekly radio address, Senator Kerry blamed administration policies for contributing to that mistreatment, including what he called a "lack of command and control and inadequate training."

"This nation should never go to war because it wants to, but only because it has to," senator Kerry said. "And we have a duty to ensure that, if our troops are sent into harm's way, they will have the right leadership, the right training, a clear sense of mission, a clear idea of what they are - and are not - expected to do.

Senator Kerry spoke of his own service in the U.S. Navy, and questioned the administration's post-war leadership.

"We have a duty to ensure that there are enough troops to achieve the mission with maximum speed and minimum risk," he said. "We have a duty to look ahead, so that once victory on the battlefield is won, we have a plan to win the peace."

Senator Kerry voted to authorize Mr. Bush to use military force against Iraq, but now says the war was a mistake and should have been built around a broader international coalition.