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Bush and Polish PM Discuss Iraq - 2004-08-09

President Bush says he sees signs of progress in the Iraqi city of Najaf, where supporters of a radical Shi'ite cleric are fighting U.S. Marines and Iraqi forces. Mr. Bush spoke at the conclusion of talks with Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka

President Bush says he stands with Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who has called on Cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to end the fighting in Najaf.

"Our troops were engaged against al-Sadr's militia and so were the Iraqis," he said. "And it appears that we are making pretty good progress about stabilizing Najaf."

But the radical Islamic cleric made clear he would defy the interim government, saying he would fight until the last drop of blood has been spilled.

The poor security situation in Najaf has apparently resulted in some change in coalition tactics. Shortly before President Bush met with Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka at the White House, the Polish news agency reported that Poland was turning over its coalition security duties in two provinces, including the Najaf area, to U.S. Marines.

Neither the president nor the prime minister talked about the report during a brief session with reporters. But they did discuss the possibility Polish force levels will be reduced in the future once Iraq holds elections.

President Bush praised the Polish presence so far in Iraq, saying Poland has been a great ally. Prime Minister Belka noted things can change as Iraq becomes more stabile. Asked about public opinion surveys that show most Poles want a withdrawal, he said simply no one wants to stay in Iraq forever.

"It is a sovereign country. It has its own internationally recognized government," he said. "It has its own rules that are developing. And we treat our presence in Iraq as serving this country to stabilize and stand on its own feet."

Poland currently leads a multinational force of more than 6,000 troops in Iraq, including 2,500 members of its own military.

As he left the White House, the prime minister stressed that the situation in Iraq is changing and so are the country's security needs. He indicated Poland's contribution could shift to providing training for Iraqi security forces in certain parts of the country.