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Bush voices frustration over Iraq political process

Associated Press
Published March 30, 2006

WASHINGTON - President Bush expressed frustration Wednesday that Iraqis have so far failed to form a unity government, but he said withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq too early would damage U.S. security.

"I want the Iraqi people to hear I've got great confidence in their capacity to self-govern," Bush said. "I also want the Iraqi people to hear - it's about time you get a unity government going.

"In other words, Americans understand you're newcomers to the political arena. But pretty soon it's time to shut her down and get governing."

The successful creation of a unified central authority remains key to the hoped-for start of an American troop withdrawal this summer. Withdrawing U.S. troops before Iraqi security forces can protect the fragile democracy, however, would yield adverse results, Bush said.

If democracy fails, Bush predicted that terrorists would use Iraq as a base to overthrow moderate governments in the Middle East and launch further attacks against the United States.

Bush spoke to Freedom House, an independent organization that supports democracy worldwide.

Congressional Democrats, meanwhile, proposed a strategy on Wednesday for protecting Americans at home and abroad.

Democrats vowed to provide U.S. agents with the resources to eliminate Osama bin Laden and ensure a redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq in 2006. They promised to rebuild the military, eliminate the United States' dependence on foreign oil and implement the recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission.

"The president can give all the speeches he wants, but nothing will change the fact that his Iraq policy is wrong," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

"Two weeks ago, he told Americans that Iraqis would control their country by the end of the year. Last week, he told us our troops would be there until at least 2009. These mixed messages from President Bush are taking America in the wrong direction and jeopardizing Iraq's chances for success."

Stalemate continues

BAGHDAD - Iraqi politicians working to form a new government canceled their multiparty talks for the day, saying they needed time to consult with their political blocs over the critical issue of what powers the next prime minister would have over security issues.

It was the second time this week political leaders shunned a session meant to overcome the stalemate that is in its sixth week.

The talks appeared stalled again after a series of meetings over the past two weeks brokered by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. The major stumbling block is the nomination of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite, for a second term. Jaafari faces deep opposition from Kurdish and Sunni politicians. On behalf of President Bush, Khalilzad has asked other top Shiite leaders for help in persuading Jaafari to step aside.

While Jaafari was not known to have formally responded to the U.S. request, he told the New York Times Wednesday that there was "concern among the Iraqi people that the democratic process is being threatened."

8 killed in Baghdad

BAGHDAD - For the third time in as many days, gunmen stormed a Baghdad business Wednesday, this time lining 14 employees against the wall and shooting them all. Eight were killed, and at least 26 others were reported dead in violence elsewhere.

The attack on the al-Ibtikar electronics trading firm began when gunmen drove up in five black BMWs shortly after 8 a.m., said police Lt. Maitham Abdul-Razzaq.

Survivors told police some of the attackers wore police uniforms and said they were intelligence agents of the Interior Ministry, which oversees police. Survivors said the gunmen asked for the company manager, who was not there, and then opened fire.

SISTER'S PLEA: Kidnapped journalist Jill Carroll's twin pleaded for her release on Arab television Wednesday, saying her sister is a "wonderful person" who is an "innocent woman." Katie Carroll read a statement on the Al-Arabiya network, noting that there had been no word from her sister's captors in Iraq in almost two months.

[Last modified March 30, 2006, 02:15:33]

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