President Bush Hints at Troop Reduction in Iraq President Bush made a surprise Labor Day visit to Iraq. After meeting his commander, and his ambassador, the president suggested that improved security could lead to a reduction in U.S. troop levels.
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President Bush Hints at Troop Reduction in Iraq

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President Bush Hints at Troop Reduction in Iraq

President Bush Hints at Troop Reduction in Iraq

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

When President Bush visited Iraq yesterday, his words were intended for the place where the war may really be decided. That place is Washington, D.C.

Lawmakers are deciding how much longer they can support the White House strategy. And they're preparing for a key report this week from the top U.S. officials in Iraq.

After meeting his commander and his ambassador, the president made a rare suggestion that improved security could lead to a reduction in troop levels.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker tell me if the kind of success we are now seeing continues, it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces.

MONTAGNE: And President Bush was joined there in Anbar Province by an extraordinary group. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Stephen Hadley, the National Security Adviser, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were among those who joined the president.

NPR's Corey Flintoff joins us now from Baghdad. And Corey, can we assume, then, that the president was pleased by what he heard from his commanders in Anbar yesterday?

COREY FLINTOFF: I think that was the whole point of taking so many of these top administration officials to Anbar rather than to Baghdad. It's a way of highlighting what the American military commanders say is real progress in a place that, you'll recall, was practically written off a year ago.

The president met with some Sunni tribal leaders who have say they have grown dissolution with the Sunni insurgency and now have switched their allegiance to the American side. It's still not altogether clear whether the reason that violence has fallen in on Anbar is because these tribes are now fighting al-Qaida in Iraq or whether it's because they're former insurgents who are no longer fighting Americans. But whatever it is, it does seem to be working.

MONTAGNE: And what was the reaction among Iraqis to the president's sudden visit and most particularly to his visit out there to Anbar?

FLINTOFF: Well, it's been very, very low key. The speech got some coverage on Iraqi television last night, but not a lot. And our translators did a review this morning of the main Iraqi newspapers, and they found really only brief factual stories on it. No editorial comment at all.

So if the purpose is to show that you can bring the Shiite prime minister out to a Sunni area and have him meet with Sunni people was supposed to impress people here, it doesn't seem to have done that.

MONTAGNE: Do you think Iraqi politicians in Baghdad understand the political significance being given to the Petraeus-Crocker report that's due out here in the U.S.?

MONTAGNE: You know, Renee, I'm not sure they do. And for one thing, the Bush administration has been working to downplay some of the significance of the report, so why should Iraqis think that it's a life or death issue for them? And I also think that Iraqi politicians recognize that the U.S. is so deeply invested here, that it can't just pull up stakes right away. So even if Congress were to succeed in pressing for an immediate withdrawal, it wouldn't be physically possible. And at least some of the people in parliament are convinced that the U.S. troop presence here really is staving off chaos and civil war.

MONTAGNE: The Iraqi Parliament re-convenes today. Is it likely that we'll see the kind of political progress that the president will need to show along with any military success to get the U.S. Congress on his side?

FLINTOFF: They're said to be fairly close to an agreement on a law that would bring some former members of Saddam Hussein's former Baath Party back into the government. That was an important issue a while ago, but now, the really significant things are provincial elections and especially a law for the distribution of Iraq's oil wealth. And at this point, we're not even sure that the parliament is going to get a quorum today. This is a very fractious issue, even among the people who've agreed to work on it. So I doubt that we're going to see any progress on that this week.

MONTAGNE: Corey, thanks very much.

FLINTOFF: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Corey Flintoff, speaking from Baghdad.

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