Bush Maintains Support of Iraqi Prime Minister President Bush met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Jordan this morning. Later at a press conference, the president maintained his support for the Iraqi leader, and insisted that there would be no immediate troop withdrawal.
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Bush Maintains Support of Iraqi Prime Minister

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Bush Maintains Support of Iraqi Prime Minister


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


And I'm Mike Pesca.

Coming up, the latest in the poisoning of a former Russian spy. British authorities say radiation has been found at a dozen other locations, as well as on several airplanes.

BRAND: First, in meetings in Amman, Jordan today, President Bush voiced strong support for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The president said American troops will remain in Iraq as long as the Iraqi government wants them there, and Mr. Bush pledged to give Iraq more control over its own security forces.

But the president offered few details and no new initiatives. From Amman, NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.

ERIC WESTERVELT: The meeting in Amman came one day after a leaked White House national security memo questioned Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's ability and authority to halt sectarian bloodshed in Iraq. Today, the two leaders stood side by side in Amman and President Bush called Maliki the right man for Iraq.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I told the prime minister that our goal in Iraq is to strengthen his government and to support his efforts to build a free Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself and is an ally in the war against the terrorists.

WESTERVELT: But raging sectarian and insurgent violence continues to stymie the fledgling Iraqi government. Mr. Bush said the two leaders had a productive meeting this morning and agreed to speed up the transfer of security responsibilities to Iraqi forces.

President BUSH: We have a prime minister who's saying stop holding me back, I want to solve the problem. And the meeting today was to accelerate his capacity to do so.

WESTERVELT: But Mr. Bush offered no new initiatives, details, or any timetable for transferring more security authority to Iraqis.

Middle East analyst Joost Hiltermann with the International Crisis Group says Iraqi forces remain feeble and inept.

Mr. YOS TILTERMAN (International Crisis Group): Their security resources are very weak. They are not able to carry the weight of leading the initiative against insurgents and against the violence more generally. So I'm not an optimist.

WESTERVELT: Next week, a bipartisan task force delivers its report to the president on possible changes to the administration's Iraq policy. The president today reiterated that U.S. troops will remain there, quote, "until the job is complete."

President BUSH: I know there's a lot of speculation that these reports in Washington mean there's going to be some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq. We're going to stay in Iraq to get the job done so long as the government wants us there.

WESTERVELT: Mr. Bush today once again laid much of the blame for sectarian carnage in Iraq on al-Qaida jihadists, but Iraqi Sunni and Shiite death squads and sectarian militias, some with links to the Iraqi government, are believed to be behind much of the rising communal bloodshed.

Prime Minister Maliki took some political risks in even coming to Jordan. In Baghdad, supporters of anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr yesterday pulled out of the fragile unity government to protest Maliki's meeting with Bush. Today, Maliki downplayed Sadr's role in Iraq and carefully chastised the cleric.

Prime Minister NOURI AL-MALIKI (Iraq): (Through Translator) Mr. Sadr and the Sadrists are just one component that participate in the government. Those who participate in this government need to bear responsibilities, and foremost among those responsibilities is the protection of this government, the protection of the constitution, the protection of the law.

WESTERVELT: President Bush again rejected the idea of any diplomatic olive branch to Iran or Syria to help stabilize Iraq, saying the Iranian government fears democracy. Prime Minister Maliki said his country's government was ready to cooperate with regional powers, but added, quote, "Iraq is for Iraqis and it's borders will be sound."

Eric Westervelt, NPR News. Amman.

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