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ARAB-US RELATIONS - May 23 - Bush Says Iraq Withdrawal Would Fuel Risk Of Al Qaeda Attack On US.

Having stared down congressional Democrats as they try to set a date for withdrawing combat troops from Iraq, Pres Bush presses his argument that the premature departure of coalition forces will make Al Qaeda an even greater threat to the region and to the US. The coalition, Bush said during a commencement speech at the US Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, was "at a pivotal moment in this battle". Of all the forces opposing it, he said, "the most destructive is Al Qaeda". Nor had its threat to US territory passed. "Here in America, we are living in the eye of a storm", he added. His comments, made from a dais before the Thames River, with a pennant-bedraped Coast Guard cutter in the background, came a day after Democrats had yielded on their insistence that a war spending measure set a troop withdrawal deadline. The Democrats moved instead toward a deal with Bush that would impose new conditions on the Iraqi government. "As we carry out new strategy, the Iraqi government has a lot of work to do", Bush said, acknowledging indirectly the pressure for progress in Baghdad. "The Iraqi people must see that their government is taking action to bring their country together". The retreat by Democrats gives Bush only limited political relief, however. Even many Republicans say that unless a report due in September from US military commanders and diplomats shows substantial success in Iraq, political pressure on the president will grow sharply. The funding now being provided will run out that month. In arguing his case, Bush referred to intelligence, declassified May 22, that he said showed that in 2005, Osama bin Laden had ordered Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, then his senior operative in Iraq, to create a terror unit to strike foreign targets, including the US. "Bin Laden emphasised that America should be Zarqawi's top priority", the president said, and Zarqawi reportedly replied that he had "some good proposals". The group's intent then - and hope now - was that "if Al Qaeda can drive us out they can establish Iraq as a new terror sanctuary", Bush said. Zarqawi was killed by a US airstrike in June 2006, Bush noted. Still, he said, the group "remains extremely dangerous", and was matching the US troop surge with one of its own, while planning further "deadly high-profile attacks". Bush also said that in 2003, intelligence officials had foiled a plot led by a Qaeda operative named Abu Bakr al-Azdi to hijack several airplanes and crash them into East Coast US targets. Frances Fragos Townsend, the White House homeland security adviser, said separately that the information had been declassified because the intelligence community had followed through all leads it provided. Democrats and others have at times accused Bush of selectively declassifying intelligence for political ends. The retreat on war funding constituted a wrenching reversal for leading Democrats. It was the first time since taking power in Congress that the Democrats had publicly agreed to allow a vote on war financing without a timetable for troop withdrawal. Many Democrats, including the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, indicated that they would not support the war money, raising the rare possibility that the war portion of the two-step vote could be adopted with most members of the majority party opposing it. The legislative battle has raged since Feb. 5, when Bush requested the additional war financing. He had insisted that the money not be bound by time constraints. In backing down May 22, the Democratic leaders accepted an outcome that had appeared increasingly likely for weeks, particularly as Democrats became concerned that their defiance could be portrayed as indifference to the troops. But the Democrats have pledged to renew their fight this summer by seeking to attach timetables to subsequent war funding measures. As late as last week, the Democrats were still pursuing timelines in their negotiations with the White House, and the decision on May 22 by Pelosi and other leaders to abandon them was not going over well with most antiwar lawmakers. "There has been a lot of tough talk from members of Congress about wanting to end this war, but it looks like the desire for political comfort won out over real action", said Senator Russell Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, who was unsuccessful last week in his push for a combat withdrawal by next spring. Other Democrats said they had no choice. "It was a concession to reality", said Representative James Moran, Democrat of Virginia, who said he intended to oppose the war-spending portion of the bill.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Date:May 26, 2007
Previous Article:ARAB-US RELATIONS - May 21 - Bush Seeks More NATO Effort In Afghanistan.
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