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Bush Notes Iraqi Political Divide, but Is Optimistic

Times Staff Writer

President Bush acknowledged Tuesday that divisions among Iraqis had stalled the formation of a new government, but predicted that the country’s leaders would soon create a democratic administration and make Iraq “a positive example for the entire Middle East.”

Appearing with a group of Iraqis and Iraqi Americans in the White House Rose Garden, Bush said the transitional National Assembly in Baghdad included “people and parties with differing visions for the future of their country.” But, he added, “these differences will be resolved through debate and persuasion, instead of force and intimidation.”

Bush spoke on a day when the second meeting of the assembly descended into an exchange of angry charges and adjourned soon afterward until the weekend. Yet Bush hailed the meeting as “another step on the road to a free society.”

The assembly was elected Jan. 30 but has yet to name the Iraqi president and two vice presidents, which it must do by a two-thirds vote. Those leaders will select a prime minister, who will lead the new government.

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Bush’s remarks appeared crafted to calm fears that the process may be heading toward an impasse, but also to gently prod the Iraqi officials to reach a compromise.

“We expect a new government will be chosen soon, and that the assembly will vote to confirm it,” he said.

A senior Bush administration official, who asked not to be identified, acknowledged that the White House would like to see more progress.

“We would like to do this as soon as possible, but we’re realistic about the difficulties involved,” the official said. “They’re new to this, and they’ve got to get a two-thirds majority vote. Think how difficult it would be to get that even from our Congress.”

U.S. officials have been working to avoid any impression that they are seeking to direct the formation of the new government in Baghdad from behind the scenes, as they did with the first two governments that were installed after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The administration worries that perceptions of American meddling might undermine the legitimacy of the new leaders. At the same time, officials are keeping close watch on the discussions and are clearly eager to keep the process moving, Iraqi political party officials have said.

“They don’t want it to be seen that we’re pulling the strings from behind the scenes,” said Patrick Clawson, deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “He [Bush] wants to make it clear America is confident the process will result in a compromise

Bush emphasized the need for compromise, saying that Iraqis “will need the spirit in the weeks and months ahead, as they continue the hard work of building their democracy.”

The president again spelled out the principles that U.S. officials expected to guide the political compromise. U.S. officials were confident, he said, that “this new government will be inclusive, will respect human rights, and will uphold fundamental freedoms” for Iraqis.

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Bush said Iraqis were “transforming the region, and they’re doing it by example and inspiration, rather than conquest and domination.”

“The free people of Iraq are now doing what Saddam Hussein never could: They’re making Iraq a positive example for the entire Middle East,” Bush said.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld offered much the same message, though in more direct language.

Asked about the political delays, Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon news conference that an agreement would eventually be reached.

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“Will they get there?” he asked. “Sure. Is it going to be as efficient as a dictatorship? No.... Is there going to be a tug and a pull and debate and argument, and ‘what about this’ and ‘what about that?’ Sure it will be, and it’s going on right now. And it’s tough stuff, because there’s a lot at stake.”


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