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IRAQ - Bush's Assessment.

President Bush on March 12 launched a round of speeches on Iraq, his most intractable problem. The initiative, as the third anniversary of the start of war approaches, is unlikely to offer any changes in US policy. But with Bush facing the lowest approval ratings of his presidency, he is to offer a more candid assessment. In a preview, Bush on March 11 said: "Amid the daily news of car bombs and kidnappings and brutal killings, I can understand why many of our fellow citizens are now wondering if the entire mission was worth it. I strongly believe our country is better off with Saddam Hussein out of power".

Bush on March 13 accused Tehran of supplying components for some of the most powerful improvised explosive devices (IEDS) used in Iraq. In a speech at George Washington University, he said: "Coalition forces have seized IEDs and components that were clearly produced in Iran. Such actions, along with Iran's support for terrorism and its pursuit of nuclear weapons, are increasingly isolating Iran".

Bush was explicit about the challenges in Iraq, acknowledging that its police forces had lagged behind the Iraqi army and that there had been problems with infiltration by local militias. He said: "We're working with the Iraqi leaders to find and remove any leaders in the national police who show evidence of loyalties to militias".

James Baker, the US secretary of state during the first Gulf war, was on March 15 made the joint leader of a high-powered and independent task force to assess the situation in Iraq and find "long-term viable alternatives" to current policy. The idea for the 10-member group originated with Frank Wolf, a Republican congressman for Virginia, and reflected growing concern in both parties in Congress that the US may not be winning the war. Lee Hamilton, the Democratic former congressman who co-chaired the 9/11 Commission, joined Baker. Several senators lent their public support to the task force.

The White House said these respected figures "will provide an independent look at the way forward in Iraq". It promised to assist in travel to Iraq and access to officials and documents. However, analysts close to the administration said it would be wrong to interpret the formation of the task force as a sign that the White House was seeking justification for a quick way out of Iraq. In launching the group, which has no deadline for its work, Wolf said: "It saddens me that in my 26 years of public service I do not think that I have ever seen the country more divided or Washington more partisan".

An opinion poll on March 15 showed most Americans believe US troops are provoking more violence than they are preventing in Iraq, but only a quarter favour a rapid withdrawal of US troops. "Most Americans have clearly given up on the idea that the operation in Iraq will have a Hollywood-style ending and are looking for a way out", said Steven Kull, the editor of WorldPublicOpinion.org, which conducted the survey.

Baker put together the broad international coalition that drove Iraq out of Kuwait with UN backing in 1991. While other former officials from the administration of the president's father, George H. W. Bush, have been critical of this war, Baker was not - at least, not in public. But he did warn that winning the peace would be critical. "We have no illusion whatsoever about the difficulty of this task", Baker said on March 14.

Former neo-con Francis Fukuyama, author of a new book highly critical of Bush's handling of Iraq, writes: "By invading Iraq, the Bush administration created a self-fulfilling prophecy: Iraq has now replaced Afghanistan as a magnet, a training ground and an operational basis for jihadists, with plenty of American targets to shoot at".

Even Richard Perle, one of Washington's best-known neo-cons, is stating publicly that the administration "got the war right and the aftermath wrong". This notion that the decision to go to war with Iraq had merit is still reflected among a significant portion of US public opinion.
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Title Annotation:George W. Bush
Publication:APS Diplomat Operations in Oil Diplomacy
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Mar 20, 2006
Words:676
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