President Bush has ordered an indefinite suspension of U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq after July.
In a major speech Thursday defending his war policy, Mr. Bush said he is endorsing the recommendation of the top US commander in Iraq. General David Petraeus says further troop withdrawals should be postponed to give American military oifficials more time for a full review of security in Iraq.
Following a limited pullout of combat forces over the next three months, that likely means about 140 thousand troops will remain in Iraq until the United States elects a new president in November.
Mr. Bush says a surge in US troops 15 months ago has revived the prospect of success in Iraq, by reducing sectarian violence and civilian and US military deaths.
The president also said Thursday that he wants tours of duty for US troops in Iraq to be reduced from 15 months to 12 months, starting in August.
On the question of overall troop strength, Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he hopes the security review General Petraeus advocates will be brief, so that troop withdrawals can resume by the end of this year. However, in testimony on Capitol Hill Thursday, Gates reversed his own estimate of last year and said it is unlikely that US troop levels will drop below 100 thousand while President Bush remains in office (until late late January).
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a senior figure in the opposition Democratic Party, says the conflict in Iraq has distracted the United States from what she calls the "real war on terror," in Afghanistan.
Another leading Democrat, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, says the US is spending five thousand dollars every second on the Iraq war, but that he doubts the effort has made Americans any safer. Tens of thousands of Iraqis and more than four thousand American troops have died during the past five years of combat.
President Bush says the monetary cost of the war is a burden worth bearing, because Iraq is a point of convergence for what he calls two of the world's greatest threats - the al-Qaida terror network and Iran. During congressional testimony earlier this week, General Petraeus and the US Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, both said security in Iraq has improved, but that it is fragile and reversible.