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U.S. Marines with Combat Logistics Battalion Helicopter Support Team prepare to attach an M198 Medium Howitzer to an approaching CH-53 E helicopter in Al Asad, Iraq, on Wednesday.
AP photo/U.S. Marine Corps by Gunnery Sgt. Michael Q. Retana
U.S. Marines with Combat Logistics Battalion Helicopter Support Team prepare to attach an M198 Medium Howitzer to an approaching CH-53 E helicopter in Al Asad, Iraq, on Wednesday.

‘We have not failed in Iraq’
White House aide says president won’t use bipartisan group as cover for troop withdrawal

By Ben Feller
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON — While President Bush acknowledges the need for major changes in Iraq, he will not use this week’s Iraq Study Group report as political cover for bringing troops home, his national security adviser said Sunday.

“We have not failed in Iraq,” Stephen Hadley said as he made the talk show rounds. “We will fail in Iraq if we pull out our troops before we’re in a position to help the Iraqis succeed.”

But he added: “The president understands that we need to have a way forward in Iraq that is more successful.”

The White House readied for an important week in the debate over Iraq: Bush planned a meeting Monday with Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the Shiite leader of the largest bloc in Iraq’s parliament, and awaited the recommendations Wednesday from the bipartisan commission.

Yet his administration, hoping to find a new way ahead in Iraq, found itself on the defensive from the second recent leak of an insider’s memo on Iraq in a week.

The latest, first reported in Sunday’s New York Times, showed that Donald H. Rumsfeld called for a “major adjustment” in U.S. tactics on Nov. 6 — the day before an election that cost Republicans the Congress and Rumsfeld his job as defense secretary.

Hadley played down the memo as simply a laundry list of ideas rather

than a call for a new course of action.

He said that Bush — just before a pivotal election — was not portraying a different sense of the war to the public than his own defense secretary was giving him in private.

The president “has said publicly what Rumsfeld said, that things are not proceeding well enough or fast enough in Iraq,” Hadley said.

Democrats did not buy that.

“The Rumsfeld memo makes it quite clear that one of the greatest concerns is the political fallout from changing course here in the United States,” said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “The bottom line is there is no one, including the former secretary, who thought the policy the president continues to pursue makes any sense.”

Bush has nominated Robert Gates to replace Rumsfeld. His confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee is on Tuesday.

As pressure builds for a new strategy, the report from the Iraq Study Group increasingly is viewed as perhaps clearing the way for a U.S. exit strategy in Iraq. Hadley, though, said the review will be just one factor the White House considers, along with views of congressional leaders, U.S. military commanders and the Iraqi government.

Once the president is comfortable on how to proceed, he will spell out his plan publicly in the coming weeks, Hadley said.

Bush repeatedly has rejected a wholesale pullout or what he calls artificial deadlines, saying Thursday, “This business about a graceful exit just simply has no realism to it at all.”

Hadley said Bush was trying to address those who contend the commission “was just going to be cover for an American withdrawal, almost regardless of what was happening on the ground. And the president needed, and felt he needed to stop that right there. That isn’t graceful withdrawal, that’s cut and run. And, of course, as the president’s said, cut and run is not his cup of tea.”

Hadley said the goal remains to shift responsibility to Iraqi forces, an increasing point of emphasis as the unpopular war rolls on.

Bush, after a meeting last week in Jordan, expressed confidence that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his government can lead the country toward peace with support from the United States.

Yet Hadley was left Sunday to defend his own memo that called that very point into question. Written on Nov. 8 but disclosed just before Bush’s meeting with the Iraqi leader, the memo described al-Maliki as “either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action.”

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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