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Bush hails troop cuts as 'return on success' in Iraq

But his speech Thursday ignores failure of Iraqi political reconciliation, critics say.

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– Laying out a "way forward in Iraq," President Bush unveiled a plan Thursday night that begins a modest drawdown of troops this month but that would still have some 130,000 soldiers in Iraq a year from now.

Pointedly avoiding the word "withdrawal," the president called his drawdown policy a "return on success" that would be guided by conditions on the ground.

Mr. Bush's prime-time speech – his eighth televised address from the White House on the war – came on the eve of renewed congressional efforts, primarily from Democrats, aimed at drawing down US forces in Iraq and redefining the US mission much more rapidly.

The speech, designed in part to preempt those efforts and to rally flagging Republican support, followed two days of congressional testimony this week by Gen. David Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq, and USAmbassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker. Bush said he was following General Petraeus's recommendations in announcing troop cuts that would basically return the US military footprint by the end of next summer to where it stood at the end of 2006.

Bush hailed the "success" of the "surge" of 30,000 troops he announced in January as the basis for a transition, to begin by the end of the year, from US forces "leading operations to partnering with Iraqi forces."

He also focused heavily on Iraq's Sunni-dominated Anbar Province, where tribal leaders have begun cooperating with the US against Al Qaeda in Iraq and other Islamist extremists. And while Bush announced the US would be developing an "enduring" partnership with Iraq that would require US forces to be there "beyond my presidency," he made little mention of the Iraqi government's failure to use the successes of the surge to pursue national reconciliation.

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