the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, with an address at the
Islamic Center of Washington, D.C.
Thursday, Dec. 5, 2002
Behold Muhammed Al Asi - HEAD of the Islamic Center in Washington DC
The video embedded below is an audio excerpt from a sermon given by
Imam Muhammad al-Asi.
You can listen to the whole sermon here
Bush policy shift reflects Iraq Study Group goals
WASHINGTON - President Bush said Thursday that, once his buildup of forces improves security in the Iraqi capital, he intends to follow the troop withdrawal plan proposed last winter by a bipartisan study group - a recommendation he all but ignored when it was originally made.
Speaking at a White House news conference, Bush for the first time fully adopted the blueprint outlined in December by the Iraq Study Group, saying he envisions U.S. troops gradually moving out of their current combat roles and into support and training functions.
"You know, I would like to see us in a different configuration at some point in time in Iraq," Bush said, referring to the study group by the names of its co-chairmen, former Secretary of State James Baker III and ex-Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind. "The recommendations of Baker-Hamilton appealed to me."
Bush's remarks were the clearest yet on his vision for the long-term U.S. role in Iraq.
It also represents a significant shift in his public position on the study group's recommendations, which were embraced by war critics when they first were unveiled but largely ignored by the White House.
Despite Thursday's public shift, Bush made clear that he did not necessarily see the move to a more limited role for U.S. troops coming soon, emphasizing that tamping down violence using his current "surge" strategy must take precedence.
"I didn't think we could get there unless we increased the troop levels to secure the capital," he said.
Still, he said the next phase of the war would have U.S. troops train Iraqis, guard the country's borders and pursue Al-Qaida. Bush did not, however, explicitly endorse the study group's specific targets for troop reductions.
Some congressional Republicans welcomed Bush's new stance. Virginia Sen. John Warner, a key bellwether of the party's position on the war, said he wanted Bush to move more quickly in implementing the study group's recommendations, suggesting the White House shift strategy as soon as July.
"The facts on the ground, if they continue to worsen as they have been here in the past months, then it seems to me that (July) would be an opportune time" for a shift, Warner told reporters.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has suggested that a reduction in troops could begin as soon as September, when the Pentagon has promised a formal evaluation of the effectiveness of the current buildup.
Thursday, however, Gates declined to say when a shift to the new posture would occur. "It remains to be seen," he said at a news briefing. He said planning for a reduction was under way, as part of contingency planning he ordered several months ago.
When Bush unveiled his new Iraq buildup strategy in January, it was seen as a repudiation of the Iraq Study Group.
Since then, however, several key Republicans have begun to question the administration's strategy, as public support for the war has continued to wane. A New York Times/CBS News poll issued Thursday showed that 61 percent of Americans now believe that the United States never should have invaded Iraq.
Bush's sudden embrace of the study group's blueprint is a measure of how far support for the war has eroded.
It also is a sign that supporters of the Iraq Study Group's recommendations within the administration are gaining ground in the internal debate over the way forward.
The recently named White House "war czar," Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, is known to be a supporter of a more limited role for U.S. combat troops. He initially opposed the surge, when it was being debated within the Pentagon.
When the Iraq Study Group delivered its report to the White House last year, Bush said he agreed with its assessment of the dire situation inside Iraq, but he made clear that he did not share its conclusions, particularly those on troop withdrawals.
"Not all of us around the table agree with every idea," Bush said at the time.
Gradually, however, the administration has moved closer to the study group's recommendations.
Bush praises Democrats' compromise on Iraq funding
President George W. Bush on Thursday praised a Democratic Party compromise on funding the war in Iraq, and he pointedly embraced the Iraq Study Group recommendations for a reduced U.S. role in the longer term. But he warned again that a premature withdrawal from Iraq would be "catastrophic."
The president, in a 50-minute news conference dominated by questions about Iraq , also said that he would seek tougher sanctions against Iran as it pursues an uranium-enrichment program that the West fears could be used to make nuclear weapons. "We need to strengthen our sanctions regime," he said. "We will work with our European partners to develop further sanctions." While Republicans portrayed the outcome of the Iraq funding bill as a victory over Democrats seeking a timeline for withdrawal, the president still faces mounting public discontent with the war. Even Republican politicians say their patience will wear thin if progress is not evident by September. Bush faced a delicate balancing act Thursday. He urged continued patience, portraying Al Qaeda as a bitter enemy unlikely to be vanquished for decades, and again said that an early U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would be catastrophic. But he also conceded that the tough fighting in Iraq could grow even bloodier in August, just before a progress report is due on American strategy.
He said that if asked by the Iraqi government to leave, U.S. troops would comply. And, seeming to hint at a longer-term U.S. pullback, he repeatedly embraced fundamental ideas of the Iraq Study Group as a road map toward a reduced American presence. He strongly supported the two-part Iraq war spending bill, expected to pass both houses of Congress late Thursday after months of wrangling and a futile effort by Democrats to put limits on how long American troops will stay.
"By voting for this bill, members of both parties can show our troops and the Iraqis and the enemy that our country will support our service men and women in harm's way," Bush said in a Rose Garden news conference during which the shouts of antiwar protesters, outside the White House gates, could occasionally be heard. But the bill will provide funding for the war only through September, the same month when - as the administration has repeatedly emphasized - the U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are due to provide a major progress report on the strategy of increasing the number of Americans troops in Baghdad and other areas of Iraq.
The plan will be fully in place by next month. One reporter asked Bush whether the insistence on the importance of September - a date the administration had fixed on in part to gain breathing space in the war debate - would not have the same impact as the timelines for withdrawal Democrats had sought: give U.S. enemies a schedule to leverage their violence for maximum effect. Bush conceded, a bit awkwardly, that this might be so. "It's going to make - it could make - it could make August a tough month," he said.
"What they're going to try to do is kill as many innocent people as they can to try to influence the debate here." But the September date was Petraeus's idea, and it was proper to defer to commanders on such matters, he said. Bush noted more than once that his plan to increase the number of troops would not be complete until mid-June, and when asked about a newly reported resurgence of sectarian violence in Iraq, said this was a mere "snapshot" of the situation. He repeatedly emphasized the need for the Iraqi government to take a larger role.
That was one of the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group panel led by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, a report the administration had given mixed reaction to in December. "The Iraqi government needs to show real progress in return for America's continued support and sacrifice," he said. "The Iraqi Study Group recommended that we hold the Iraqi government to the series of benchmarks for improved security, political reconciliation and governance that the Iraqis have set for themselves." At two other points he spoke positively of the group's report, including its calls for embedding U.S. troops with Iraqi units, maintaining sufficient force in the country to assure Iraq's territorial integrity, and keeping special forces in Iraq that can focus on fighting Al Qaeda. Describing the conditions for victory in Iraq - a stable, democratic Baghdad government able to be a U.S. ally against terrorists - Bush said that one of the things that appealed to him about the Iraqi Study Group report was that it would provide "a kind of a long-term basis" for making that likely to happen, "assuming the Iraqi government invited us to stay there."