WASHINGTON – President Bush said Monday that anxiety about security in Baghdad is a not a bad thing because it means the Iraqi government understands it has the responsibility to protect its people.
"I appreciate the fact that the Iraqi government is anxious to get security inside the capital of their country," Bush said after meeting with his Cabinet at the White House.
"It's a good sign that there's a sense of concern and anxiety," the president added. "It means the government understands that it has a responsibility to protect their people. And we want to help them."
Bush said the buildup of U.S. troops in Iraq is aimed at giving the Iraqi government a window of time to make strides toward unity and peace.
"We'd like to do it as quickly as possible," he said. "The success of that plan is going to depend upon the capacity and willingness of the Iraqis to do hard work. We want to help them do that work."
Bush said the fact that Iraqi government officials are saying that it's time to implement the plan is a good step.
"It shows that they understand that now is the time to do the things necessary to protect their people," he said.
Violence raked Baghdad Monday as an Iraqi general took charge of the security operation in the capital and Iraqi police and soldiers manned new roadblocks — initial steps indicating the start of the long-anticipated joint operation with American forces to curb sectarian bloodshed.
A spokesman for the Sadr Movement, an important Shiite bloc in parliament, complained that the security crackdown had been too long in coming, especially given the series of bombings that have devastated mainly Shiite marketplaces over the past weeks.
Bush also rejected any notion that his new budget plan, released Monday, amounts to a timeline for the end of the war.
His budget calls for $145 billion in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008, down from the proposed $170 billion this year. It assumes that war spending will be down to $50 billion by 2009 — and zero beyond that.
"There will be no timetable set," Bush said. "And the reason why is because we don't want to send mixed signals to an enemy or to a struggling democracy or to our troops."
Bush sent a $2.90 trillion spending plan to the Democratic-controlled Congress, proposing a big increase in military spending, including billions more to fight the war in Iraq, while squeezing the rest of government to meet his goal of eliminating the deficit in five years.
"Our priority is to protect the American people. And our priority is to make sure that our troops have what it takes to do their job," Bush said.