MELISSA BLOCK, host:
President Bush was asked about Prime Minister Maliki's comments today. At a White House news conference, the president insisted that as long as U.S. forces don't leave Iraq prematurely, they will win and help to establish a stable government there. Mr. Bush also said Americans who are unhappy with the war can hold him accountable.
NPR's David Greene was in the East Room for the president's session with reporters.
DAVID GREENE: It was clear one of President Bush's goals today was to give the young government in Iraq a vote of confidence. His message was Prime Minister Maliki is the head of a sovereign government and will ultimately be responsible for the future of his country. So when Mr. Bush was asked about complaints from Maliki that U.S. forces raided the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad without informing Iraq's government, the president said simply that Maliki had reason to be upset.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: 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.
GREENE: Maliki also said no one has the right to impose timetables on his government. U.S. officials have been setting benchmarks for when the Iraqis should disband militias and calm down the violence in their country.
President Bush spoke of such benchmarks today but said again that Maliki was correct, that no country can order Iraq to do anything. At the same time, though, President Bush had another message, that when it comes to security, Maliki's government isn't getting the job done.
President BUSH: We're pressing Iraq's leaders to take bold measures to save their country. We're making it clear that America's patience is not unlimited. Yet we also understand the difficult challenges Iraq's leaders face and we will not put more pressure on the Iraqi government than it can bear.
GREENE: At times, Mr. Bush used language that made the situation in Iraq sound dire. He said there has been a cycle of sectarian violence that has erupted into what he called a raging conflict. There will be plenty of tough fighting ahead, he said, and it's the U.S. military's job to prevent an all out civil war. Mr. Bush, though, repeatedly refused to speak about what he called hypotheticals, such as when U.S. troops may leave the country. But he did say this -
President BUSH: Americans have no intention of taking sides in a sectarian struggle or standing in the crossfire between rival factions.
GREENE: The president vowed to stand with Maliki's government so long as the prime minister continues to make tough decisions, but when asked specifically about what happens if U.S. patience runs out, the president refused to say.
He was also asked about Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's future amid calls for his resignation. Mr. Bush called Rumsfeld smart, tough and capable and said he's satisfied with the secretary's work. So who, Mr. Bush was asked, would be held accountable for a war plan if it fails?
President BUSH: The ultimate accountability, Peter, rests with me. That's the ultimate. You're asking about accountability. It rests right here. It's what the 2004 campaign was about. People want to - people are unhappy about it, look right to the president.
GREENE: And some voters may do just that in two weeks when they vote in midterm elections. Polls show a solid majority of Americans unhappy with the war and with the president's handling of it, and some Republicans have been urging Mr. Bush to change his Iraq strategy somehow. Democrats are growing more optimistic about taking the majority in the House and maybe even the Senate, and Mr. Bush had something to say about that.
President BUSH: You know, we've got some people dancing in the end zone here in Washington, D.C. They've got them measuring their drapes. They're going over to the Capitol and saying my new office looks beautiful. I think I'm going to have this size drape there. This color.
GREENE: Mr. Bush insisted his party will win, even if, as he put it, that defies conventional wisdom in Washington.
David Greene, NPR News, The White House.
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