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US commander stands firm on troop withdrawals -

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US commander stands firm on troop withdrawals

The World Today - Wednesday, 9 April , 2008 12:34:00

Reporter: Kim Landers

ASHLEY HALL: The top US commander in Iraq is refusing to commit to any more troop withdrawals
before President George W. Bush leaves office.

It means there could be roughly 140,000 American troops still there when a new commander in chief
walks into the White House.

Washington correspondent Kim Landers reports.

KIM LANDERS: In Washington today, there've been plenty of reminders of the long Iraq war.

At the White House, a visibly emotional President George W. Bush has given America's highest
military award, the medal of honour, to Michael Monsoor - a navy seal who died when he threw
himself on a grenade in Iraq to save his comrades.

GEORGE W. BUSH: We will not let his life go in vain. This nation will always honour the sacrifice
he made. May god comfort you. May God bless America.

KIM LANDERS: On Capitol Hill, the top US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, wouldn't answer
questions about how long American troops will stay in Iraq but he has told Congress that Iraq is
far from stable.

DAVID PETRAEUS: That's why I have repeatedly noted that we haven't turned any corners, we haven't
seen any lights at the end of the tunnel. The champagne bottle has been pushed to the back of the
refrigerator and the progress, while real, is fragile and is reversible.

KIM LANDERS: As General Petraeus testified, hundreds of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans rallied in a
nearby park to show their support for the military commander.

Standing to one side, smoking a cigarette was 22-year-old Joseph Cook.

He told me that he was in Iraq for almost a year. That he'd lost his left leg in an explosion, had
only finished rehab last week and was on his first trip to Washington.

JOSEPH COOK: I got hit by an IED (improvised explosive device), a roadside bomb. It fractured my
leg in nine different places and they had to amputate in theatre. I was in a striker, one of the
new vehicles. Great vehicles, hold up really sturdy.

KIM LANDERS: You were just unlucky do you think?

JOSEPH COOK: No, we got a lot of IEDs, so it was just my time.

KIM LANDERS: What do you say to a lot of your fellow Americans who are really frustrated with this
war and just want it to be over?

JOSEPH COOK: I'll remind them that it is a war and wars take time and we've got to let the
situation develop. So the longer that we're there the more good we are going to do, so just ask
them to have patience, you know.

KIM LANDERS: How long do you think the US might be in Iraq for?

JOSEPH COOK: There is no time but I think we need to be there as long as we are making a difference
and I think we are. So, it could be ten years, it could be 50 years, who knows? Until we're done.

KIM LANDERS: General David Petraeus today held his ground against impatient Democrats who wanted
him to commit to more troop withdrawals before President George W. Bush leaves office.

Peter Rodman is a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former assistant secretary of
Defence.

PETER RODMAN: I believe this president owes his successor to leave Iraq in as stable a condition as
he can manage. And that means not taking chances this year, not trying to just start a withdrawal
just for its own sake, but to leave Iraq in as stable a condition as we can manage and the Iraqis
can manage and that means being very cautious about withdrawal.

The next president has all these options anyway, but if this president were to do something against
his better judgement just to respond to political pressures and unravel things then the next
president would actually inherit some far worse options and I think that is how this president is
thinking.

KIM LANDERS: Michelle Flournoy is president of the Centre for a New American Security.

MICHELLE FLOURNOY: A short pause to see how the dust settles to see how security's holding at a
lower level of Coalition forces is fine, but I think it is very important because of the strains on
the US army, because of the need to increase our commitments elsewhere, like Afghanistan, and the
need simply to re-establish some kind of strategic reserve to be ready for other possible
contingencies that might arise.

We need to look towards drawing down US forces as is prudently possible. So I wouldn't necessarily
want to freeze things from July for the remainder of the year.

KIM LANDERS: President George W. Bush will make a speech about the war, giving his decision about
troop levels, later this week.

This is Kim Landers in Washington for The World Today.