Bush Vows 'Evolving' Strategy for Success in Iraq President Bush faces the press once again to discuss the state of the continued U.S.-led occupation of Iraq. The White House is ditching the "stay the course" rhetoric it has used in the past amid increasingly strident calls -- some from within his own political party -- to change strategy as sectarian violence explodes.
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Bush Vows 'Evolving' Strategy for Success in Iraq

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Bush Vows 'Evolving' Strategy for Success in Iraq

Bush Vows 'Evolving' Strategy for Success in Iraq

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. Madeleine Brand is on assignment. I'm Alex Chadwick.

There's a lot of news today from the White House and Iraq. And we'll hear from both. NPR's Anne Garrels from Baghdad in a moment.

First, to NPR White House correspondent David Greene. David, welcome back. And Mr. Bush took questions from reporters today at a press conference that was devoted largely to Iraq. He began with a lengthy statement. And then later, he was asked if the U.S. is winning the war in Iraq.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Absolutely, we're winning. Al-Qaida's on the run. As a matter of fact, the mastermind, or the people who they think is the mastermind, of the September 11th attacks is in our custody.

CHADWICK: So David, the president sounds assertive and full of confidence. What did you hear today that was new?

DAVID GREENE: Well, it was interesting, Alex. If you listen to the president saying, you know, absolutely we're winning, immediately he started talking about al-Qaida. He started talking about one of the suspected perpetrators of the 9-11 attacks being in U.S. custody.

He didn't follow up absolutely we're winning with a conversation about Iraq. Now he did say that he's confident in victory there. But this really was a day when I think the president wanted to send a signal to the American people that he is aware of how awful things look there right now.

He said that there is a raging conflict, which is language that we haven't heard before, and he spoke of putting pressure on the Maliki government to make some tough decisions. He said he's not satisfied with what's happening in Iraq.

And there seemed to be a decision that with two weeks, less than two weeks, before elections in the U.S., the president had to come out and say he knows why Americans are so distraught over the war, and he's doing something about it.

CHADWICK: You know, there was this White House meeting to kind of reassess policy over the weekend. And then yesterday in Baghdad, General Casey - top U.S. commander - and Ambassador Khalilzad came out and talked about timelines and that sort of thing.

Let me note that Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also met with reporters today, David. We'll hear more about that from Annie in a moment. But he appears to be in his statements at some variance with what U.S. officials are saying. And Mr. Bush was asked to explain that.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I've heard that. And I asked to see his complete transcript of this press conference, where he made it very clear that militias harm the stability of his country. Militias - people who operate outside the law will be dealt with. That's what the prime minister said in his press conference.

The idea that, you know, we need to coordinate with him makes sense to me. And there's a lot of operations taking place, which means that sometimes communications may not be as good as they should be. And we'll continue to work very closely with the government to make sure that the communications are solid.

CHADWICK: So the president's sounding a little less confident there, it sounded to me.

GREENE: Yeah, you know, here's the tough spot that the president's in, Alex. You know, he wants to prop up this Maliki government. He wants to say that this is a sovereign government, and yet he's also trying to put some pressure on the Maliki government.

So when the prime minister comes out and complains about some of the behavior of United States troops and talks about that he wasn't informed of some activities and a U.S. raid in Iraq, the president almost has to say, well, you know, communications weren't as good as they should be. And we're going to try to fix that. Because the alternative is saying the U.S. can do whatever we want in your country, and that doesn't necessarily make it seem like Maliki is a sovereign leader.

And this question came up when the president himself went to Baghdad a few months ago. Maliki was one of the last to find out that the president was in his country. And Maliki's government didn't appear that happy about it.

CHADWICK: Yeah. Another tough question, U.S. troop levels following a comment from a U.S. general in Baghdad yesterday that he might need more troops.

GREENE: Yeah, the president stuck to his message that he has stuck to before, which is that if Casey - General Casey and other military commanders ask for more troops, then he's prepared to send them in.

The president also said that we've come to a different spot. He said that a period of months ago, he was confident that the U.S. might be able to reduce its troop levels in Iraq some time next year, Mr. Bush saying today that that doesn't appear the case anymore, given the situation there.

CHADWICK: A question about timing on this press conference. Is it because of the upcoming mid-term elections? What's the president's response?

GREENE: Well, clearly it has to do with the elections, but the president said he was coming out just to give the Americans an update on the war.

CHADWICK: Okay. David Greene, we're coming back to you in a moment on another subject.

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