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Bush Hails 'New Day' in Iraq; No Word on Troops
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US President George W. Bush said yesterday the formation of a government in Iraq marked a "new day" for the country but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said it was too early to make commitments on withdrawing US troops.


An Iraqi diplomat said it would be "cataclysmic" for his country if troops left too soon.


Bush said he had called Iraq's president, prime minister and speaker on Sunday to congratulate them on bringing together a unity government.


Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has put together a cabinet of Shi'ites, minority Sunni Arabs and Kurds that was sworn in on Saturday, more than three years after a US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.


"The formation of a unity government in Iraq is a new day for the millions of Iraqis who want to live in freedom," Bush said to reporters at the White House with his wife, Laura, by his side after attending church.


Bush is eager to show signs of progress in Iraq. His approval ratings have fallen to the lows of his presidency partly on growing public discontent with Iraq, where violence persists and more than 2,400 American troops have died.


Bombs killed at least 19 people in Baghdad on Sunday as the new government met for the first time, in a reminder of the task Maliki faces to reduce the bloodshed.


Bush repeatedly has refused to give a timetable for troop withdrawal, saying Iraqis must first take over security for their country. US military commanders will meet with the Iraqi government over the next few weeks, Rice said.


"They will come up with plans that include what remains to be done, what role Iraqi forces can play in that, what role coalition forces still need to play," she said.


"It is premature before we've even had this discussion with the Iraqi government to start giving firm commitments on what the drawdown will look like," Rice said on "Fox News Sunday."


Americans and Iraqis do not want a long-term presence of US troops but they need to stay until Iraqis can provide security, Iraqi Deputy UN Ambassador Feisal Amin al-Istrabadi said on CNN's "Late Edition."


"A short run or immediate withdrawal of the multinational forces in Iraq would be cataclysmic for us and I think there is universal acknowledgment of that," he said.


Two key security positions in the Iraqi government, the defense and interior ministers, have not been filled due to a lack of agreement.


Zalmay Khalilzad, US ambassador to Iraq, said on CNN's "Late Edition" that Maliki had narrowed the list of candidates and expected a decision on those posts within a week.


He said it would take months to develop a plan to disband militias and years to implement it but Maliki understood that only authorized people should carry weapons.


"This will take political decision and at the same time it will take resources and it will take time because these unauthorized forces, including militias, are the infrastructure of a civil war," Khalilzad said. "They need to be brought under control."


Rice expressed confidence in Maliki, saying: "This is a strong leader. "I've met him. I've looked into his eyes. This is somebody who is determined to do what is right for the Iraqi people."


Bush said he assured the Iraqi leaders that the United States would continue to help their country establish a democracy because, "I fully understand that a free Iraq will be an important ally in the war on terror, will serve as a devastating defeat for the terrorists and al-Qaeda."


Bush, who has made spreading democracy overseas one of the goals of his administration, said a democratic Iraq "will serve as an example for others in the region who desire to be free."


(Chinadaily.com.cn via agencies, May 22, 2006)


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