WASHINGTON – President Bush's national security adviser said Tuesday the Iraqis are starting to make the tough decisions needed to halt rising sectarian violence, but must do more quickly.
Stephen Hadley said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the fledging government are starting to take steps aimed at quelling the rising sectarian violence and moving Iraq toward prosperity and peace.
"I think they've got to do more and they've got to do it faster," Hadley said in a radio interview at the White House. "And I think if you talked to Prime Minister (Nouri) al-Maliki he would say, to you, the same thing."
With just two weeks until a crucial Election Day at home, the White House wants to ease political anxieties about security in Iraq. But at the same time it has rebuffed calls for a dramatic policy shift in the wartorn nation.
U.S. officials in Iraq said Tuesday that government leaders there have agreed to develop a timeline by the end of the year for progress in stabilizing Iraq and reducing violence that has killed 300 Iraqi troops during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan alone.
Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander who appeared at a news conference with U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, said Iraqi forces should be able to take control of security in the next 12 to 18 months with minimal American support.
Casey also said he felt the United States should continue to focus on drawing down the number of American forces in the country, adding that he would not hesitate to ask for more troops if he felt they were necessary.
"We're not making the progress we would like and that's why we have to look at what we are doing and see what we need to change to get the kind of progress that we need," Hadley told National Public Radio. "You don't need a timetable to be able and willing to say to the Iraqis, `Look, if this is going to work and succeed, you have to step up and make some very difficult choices.' "
He predicted that stability and security will not be achieved in Iraq before Bush leaves the White House.
"Is there going to be peace? Is there going to the end of any violence? Of course not. This violence is going to go on for a long time," Hadley said. "But what you hope for is a situation where Iraqi governmental institutions and Iraqi security forces can manage and contain the violence so that it does not threaten the integrity of the Iraqi state and the ability of the Iraqi state to bring prosperity and economic life to its community."
Bush is under increasing pressure from lawmakers in both parties to change his war plan.
"We're on the verge of chaos, and the current plan is not working," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Monday in an Associated Press interview. U.S. and Iraqi officials should be held accountable for the lack of progress, said Graham, a Republican who is a frequent critic of the administration's policies.
Asked who in particular should be held accountable — Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, perhaps, or the generals leading the war — Graham said: "All of them. It's their job to come up with a game plan" to end the violence.
Bush, in a CNBC interview, said, "Well, I've been talking about a change in tactics ever since I — ever since we went in, because the role of the commander in chief is to say to our generals, `You adjust to the enemy on the battlefield."' conference.
White House press secretary Tony Snow said the United States would adjust its Iraq strategy but would not issue any ultimatums to the Iraqis. "Are there dramatic shifts in policy? The answer is no," Snow said Monday.
He acknowledged, however, that Bush no longer is saying that the United States will "stay the course" in Iraq.
"He stopped using it," Snow said of that phrase, adding that it left the impression that the administration was not adjusting its strategy to realities in Baghdad.
Rumsfeld said U.S. government and military officials were working with Iraq to set a broad timetable for Iraqis to take over 16 provinces still being controlled by U.S. troops. But he said officials were not talking about penalizing the Iraqis if they don't hit certain benchmarks.
The Iraqis have taken control of two southern provinces but have been slow to take the lead in others, particularly those around Baghdad and in the volatile regions north and west of the capital. Rumsfeld said specific target dates probably will not be set.