Bush pledges support for Iraq PM

Updated: 2006-10-29 10:01

CHARLESTON AIR FORCE BASE, S.C., Ind. - President George W. Bush reassured Iraq's prime minister of his support on Saturday as Democrats accused the president of living in a "fantasy world" over the unpopular war that could cost his Republican Party control of the U.S. Congress.

President George W. Bush answers a question during a news conference about Iraq in the East Room of the White House in Washington October 25, 2006. [Reuters]

Ten days before the congressional elections, the president told hundreds of troops and their families he had a plan to stabilize Iraq and that leaving too quickly would be a mistake.

"It's tough fighting, because the enemy understands the stakes of a free Iraq," Bush said in a speech at Charleston Air Force Base.

"Make no mistake about it, if the United States of America were to leave before the job is done, the enemy will follow us here," Bush said. "And that is why we will fight in Iraq. And that is why we will win in Iraq."

Before leaving Washington for a campaign swing that also included Indiana, Bush held a 50-minute videoconference with Iraq Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and told him that election-year pressure would not weaken his support for Maliki's government.

"Both leaders understand the political pressures going on," said White House spokesman Tony Snow. "But the president told him don't worry about politics in the United States because we are with you, and we are going to be with you."

With 98 U.S. troops having died in October alone -- the highest toll since January 2005 -- some lawmakers have urged the administration to use timetables or other means to press Maliki to rein in militias and curb sectarian violence.

Democrats, in their weekly radio address, pressed their election message that Bush has botched the Iraq war.

"With the right leadership, the situation in Iraq is solvable, in a way that will increase stability in the Middle East and reduce the threat of international terrorism," said James Webb, a candidate in a key Senate race in Virginia who delivered the address.

"But the key word is leadership, which has been a scarce commodity among this administration and its followers."


Webb, a Vietnam veteran, highlighted comments from Republicans such as Virginia Sen. John Warner and former Secretary of State James Baker, who have suggested the surging violence may call for a fresh strategy in Iraq.

"They are moving away from the fantasy world of this administration, toward real solutions," he said. Webb is running against Sen. George Allen, whose seat was once considered safe but who is now locked in a close race.

Baker, a close friend of the Bush family, is heading a bipartisan panel looking at strategies for Iraq but its recommendations will not be ready before the November 7 elections.

A number of nationwide polls, including one by Reuters/Zogby released on Thursday, show voters strongly favoring Democratic candidates over Republicans.

Campaigning in Indiana for an endangered Republican incumbent, Rep. Mike Sodrel, Bush linked Iraq to the war on terrorism said tried to paint Democrats as weak on national security.

"Democrats say (Iraq) is not a part of the war against the terrorists, it's a distraction," Bush said. "Well, don't take my word for it -- listen to Osama bin Laden. He has made it clear that Iraq is a central part of this war on terror."

Bush attacked Democrats for opposing priorities of his such as a program to allow harsh interrogations of terrorist suspects and warrantless wiretapping.

Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, accused Bush of trying to scare Americans.

"Five years after 9/11 and four years into the war in Iraq, the record is clear. President Bush and his Republican Congress have made America less safe," Manley said.