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 Post subject: Iraq handover by year's end: Bush
PostPosted: Wed Mar 15, 2006 3:12 am 

Joined: Sat Jan 14, 2006 4:13 pm
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Location: South Australia
Iraq handover by year's end: Bush
Correspondents in London and Washington
March 15, 2006

GEORGE W. Bush set a goal yesterday of handing over responsibility for most of Iraq to local forces by the end of the year as he sought to rally support for his handling of the war.

Stung by plummeting opinion polls on the eve of the third anniversary of the invasion, the US President said Iraqi forces had played a key role in preventing the country from descending into civil war.

"As more capable Iraqi police and soldiers come on line, they will assume responsibility for more territory with the goal of having the Iraqis control more territory than the coalition by the end of 2006," Mr Bush said in a speech to the Foundation for Defence of Democracies.

After the handover, US and coalition forces would concentrate on hunting targets such as al-Qa'ida's leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, he said.

But the White House's message of progress was undermined last night by revelations that the bodies of at least 40 men had been found shot dead in Baghdad in a 24-hour period.

The grisly discovery underscored fears that Sunday's deadly bomb attacks on a Shi'ite slum area would start a new round of sectarian killing between Iraq's majority Shi'ites and the minority Sunnis.

Mr Bush's speech marked the start of another campaign to convince the US public his Iraq strategy was working.

While he would not provide a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops, he expressed confidence the insurgents in Iraq would be defeated.

"We can expect the enemy ... will continue to sow violence and destruction designed to stop the emergence of a free and democratic Iraq," Mr Bush said.

"The enemies of a free Iraq are determined, yet so are the Iraqi people, and so are America and our coalition partners. We will not lose our nerve."

In Britain, Defence Secretary John Reid cited the improved capability of Iraqi forces in announcing British forces in Iraq would be reduced by about 800 to just over 7000 in coming months.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Britain's decision to cut its forces had been made "in close consultation" with other members of the US-led coalition in Iraq and reflected improving Iraqi security forces.

Reuters, AFP, KRT

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