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Published: Friday, 7/13/2007

Secretary of State Rice says Bush Iraq war policy needs more time


WASHINGTON Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice exhorted congressional critics of Iraq war policy Friday to give the Bush administration and the fledgling government in Baghdad until September to make a coherent judgment of where we are.

On the morning after the House voted 223-201 for a Democratic proposal to force a U.S. troop withdrawal by next spring, Rice acknowledged in a round of television interviews that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki s government hasn t achieved as much progress as we would like.

But we shouldn t just dismiss as inconsequential the progress that they have made, the secretary argued in an appearance on Fox News Fox & Friends show.

Rice argued, for instance, that Baghdad has made headway in lowering the level of sectarian violence, pointing to something that isn t even on that benchmark list the tremendous change in al Anbar province, where you have the sheiks, the local people, taking back their streets from al-Qaida.

I understand people s concern. I understand people s impatience, she said. But Rice said we ought to stick to the troop build up strategy that President Bush announced in January, and wait until September when commanding Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker are scheduled to deliver a new assessment of conditions there.

On CBS s The Early Show, Rice said, I don t agree that you would give it (the al-Maliki government) a failing grade. You would say that it s a work in progress. You would say that they have not made inconsequential movement forward on some of the important benchmarks, particularly those involving security.

Let s look at the whole picture, the secretary urged. You re not going to be able to go by step by step, benchmark by benchmark. ... We ll have a much better view of that whole picture when Gen. Petraeus and (U.S. Ambassador) Ryan Crocker report in September.

She said she believes letting Bush s strategy play out is the wisest course.

Rice, who will travel with Defense Secretary Robert Gates to the Middle East in early August, called al-Maliki a man who wants to do the right thing for his country.

They are trying to do something that is very difficult fundamental changes, she said on NBC s Today show. They are trying to do it by consensus.

Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com.

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