WASHINGTON – U.S. occupiers may begin transferring power back to the Iraqi people soon, but American peacekeeping troops will remain in Iraq for some time, President Bush said Friday.
"In terms of security, we will do whatever it takes," President Bush said after an Oval Office meeting with Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi (search). "We will stay there until the job is done and then we will leave. ... And the job is for Iraq to be free and peaceful."
Bush suggested — but did not directly say — that U.S. forces would remain in Iraq until deposed leader Saddam Hussein is found.
"We will find Saddam Hussein," the president said. "We are strong and determined and we will be successful."
However, Secretary of State Colin Powell (search), in an interview with a Nashville television station, said earlier that the number of U.S. troops is likely to be reduced as Iraq builds its own forces.
With the U.S. death toll in Iraq approaching 400 and some polls showing increasing criticism of Bush's handling of postwar Iraq, the administration's aim is to accelerate steps toward an Iraqi takeover and an end to the U.S. occupation.
"It does not mean we would physically leave the country any sooner," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) told troops Thursday in Guam. "What it means is the Iraqis would begin to take on a greater portion of responsibility for governing themselves sooner."
Bush said Friday it is appropriate to give Iraqis control more quickly.
"We will work with the [Iraqi] Governing Council to speed up the political process in a rational way ... on the belief that we've made a lot of progress on the ground and that the Governing Council is better prepared for taking over responsibility," he said.
He also defended the U.S. strategy for fighting back against the increasingly deadly insurgency in Iraq.
"The enemy is changing tactics on the ground so we're changing our response and that's what you're beginning to see," he said.