Bush Adviser: Iraq Must 'Step Up'

Iraqi policemen monitor the area at a checkpoint in the southern city of Amara in the afternoon of 21 October 2006. (Photo credit should read ESSAM AL-SUDANI/AFP/Getty Images) AFP/Getty Images

The fledgling Iraqi government must "step up and take more responsibility" for the country's security, a high-ranking White House official said Monday.

At the same time, Dan Bartlett denied in a television interview that the Bush administration's war policy has been a sweeping "stay the course" commitment.

Senior members of Mr. Bush's national security team attended White House meetings Monday. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, just back Asia and Russia, was first to show up. She was followed by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

As pre-election pressure mounts from congressional Democrats and Republicans, a new report suggests the White House is drafting a timetable that calls for the Iraqi government to assume more responsibility for security in the war-torn country.

The report in Sunday's New York Times said the head of the U.S.-led Multinational Forces in Iraq and the U.S. ambassador to Iraq were working on a plan that probably would — for the first time — outline milestones for disarming sectarian militias and meeting other political and economic goals.

Bartlett dismissed the Times article, saying, "I was puzzled by the report over the weekend because it was stating something we have been talking about publicly for months." He told CBS Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm that the U.S. policy in Iraq is not a "stay the course strategy." Bartlett added, "We aren't sitting there with our heads in the sand. We are completely changing on a week-by-week basis."

The White House earlier had said the report in Sunday's editions of the Times was not accurate. Bartlett said he thought it "might have been overwritten."

"The enemy we're fighting is a very determined one. They're very lethal. ... But we are going to prevail and it's going to require the Iraqis themselves to step up and take more responsibility, and that's something we'll be impressing on them in the weeks and months ahead," Bartlett said.

Appearing after Bartlett on The Early Show, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., told co-anchor Harry Smith, "I was amazed by Dan Bartlett's comments that we have always been flexible. They still talk about this being a war against terrorists. It's a civil war." Biden added, "We need a radical change."

Biden, who is the senior Democrat of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was adamant that the United States needs to push Iraq to intensify its security forces and reach a political settlement with its sectarian factions. "Last time I said that, the president said we can't tell the Iraqis what to do. Like heck we can't tell the Iraqis what to do. It's our blood and treasure. We told them what to do with the constitution. We should tell them straight up now: 'Get a preliminary settlement or you are on your own, Jack.'"

Biden said the time is coming when the American public will no longer tolerate lives and money "being poured down a rathole because, in fact, we're in the middle of a civil war."

In other related developments:

  • The October U.S. death toll in Iraq is at least 87, the highest monthly toll in nearly two years. In Balad, however, U.S. forces are not the main target. As Lara Logan reports, Iraqi factions are taking aim at each other.

  • Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Monday announced a military crackdown to tame the country's staggering armed violence, taking special aim at continuing lawlessness in the southern city of Amarah, where police have fled the streets as Mahdi Army gunmen hunt them down in a brutal Shiite-on-Shiite settling of scores. The spread of vendetta-style killings among Shiites in their southern heartland has opened a new and ominous front as American forces were already struggling to control insurgent and sectarian bloodshed to the north especially in Baghdad.

  • Militants targeted police recruits and shoppers rounding up last-minute sweets and delicacies Sunday for a feast to mark the end of the Ramadan holy month, the highlight of the Muslim year. At least 44 Iraqis were reported killed across the country.

  • Sunday's killings raised to at least 950 the number of Iraqis who have died in war-related violence this month, an average of more than 40 a day. Until this month, the daily average had been about 27. The AP count includes civilians, government officials and police and security forces, and is considered a minimum based on AP reporting. The actual number is likely higher, as many killings go unreported. The United Nations has said at least 100 Iraqis are now killed daily.

  • The U.S. military announced the deaths of a Marine and seven soldiers, raising to 86 the number of American service members killed in October — the highest monthly toll this year. The pace of U.S. deaths could make October the deadliest month in two years.

  • President Bush reviewed Iraq strategy with top war commanders and national security advisers on Friday and Saturday, but indicated little inclination for major changes to an increasingly divisive policy. "Our goal in Iraq is clear and unchanging: Our goal is victory," Mr. Bush said in his weekly radio address Saturday. "What is changing are the tactics we use to achieve that goal."

    Also Monday, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh urged international forces to remain even in the face of the violence, saying it was no time to panic.

    "I have to say, because there is too much of a pessimistic tone to this debate even I would say in certain circles a defeatist tone," Saleh told the British Broadcasting Corp. before meeting in London with Prime Minister Tony Blair.

    Meanwhile, a day after his remarks in an interview were broadcast by the pan-Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera, Alberto Fernandez issued a written apology Sunday through the State Department press office.

    "Upon reading the transcript of my appearance on Al-Jazeera, I realized that I seriously misspoke by using the phrase 'there has been arrogance and stupidity' by the U.S. in Iraq," said Fernandez, director of public diplomacy in State's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.

    "This represents neither my views nor those of the State Department," Fernandez added. "I apologize."

    U.S. officials had sought to play down Fernandez' assessment of the security situation in Iraq.

    State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters Friday that Fernandez said after the broadcast he didn't think reports of his comments were an "accurate reflection of what he said." Asked whether the Bush administration believed that history will show a record of arrogance or stupidity in Iraq, McCormack replied, "No."

    Fernandez spoke in fluent Arabic in the interview, which Al-Jazeera said was taped in Washington on Friday.
    • James Klatell

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