Bush to outline Iraq plan in speech

Power handoff will create turmoil, top general says


BATON ROUGE, La. - President Bush will outline a "clear strategy" for Iraq in a major speech Monday night, White House aides said yesterday, even as top U.S. generals warned Congress that Bush's plan to transfer power to Iraqis by June 30 is likely to spawn more violence.

Bush's speech Monday at 8 p.m. at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., is designed to reassure Americans about the war and the handoff of partial sovereignty to Iraqis on June 30. Bad news from Iraq has helped drive Bush's popularity and job approval ratings to the lowest point in his presidency.

But yesterday the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard B. Myers, told the House Armed Services Committee that the June 30 turnover is likely to usher in a period of more turmoil, comments echoed by the Army chief of staff, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker.

"The threat will continue to intensify after June 30," Myers said. "There will be those, including Zarqawi and the foreign fighters, who will try very hard to keep us from having any political progress in Iraq. There is reason for great hope, but the situation is not without its challenges, both military and political." Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is a Jordanian-born militant linked to al-Qaida.

The ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, asked Myers, "Are we on the brink of failure?"

"I don't think so," Myers replied. "It is going to be tough. But I think we are on the brink of success."

Bush spoke briefly about Iraq yesterday during a commencement speech at Louisiana State University.

"We have an historic opportunity, the establishment of a peaceful and democratic Iraq at the heart of the Middle East, which will remove a danger, strike a blow against terrorism and make America and the world more secure," the president said.

White House spokesman Trent Duffy said Bush will speak in far greater detail Monday night about the handoff of power to a yet-to-be-identified Iraqi government, and infrastructure, security and humanitarian issues in Iraq, as well as international and diplomatic efforts to improve the situation.

"We are approaching a pivotal phase as we approach the June 30th transfer of sovereignty in Iraq," Duffy said. "And the president looks forward, on Monday evening, to discussing with the American people and with a global audience a clear strategy on how we need to move forward."

As of yesterday afternoon, administration officials hadn't asked the networks to carry the speech live, but the White House is clearly hoping for a major television audience.

At the House Armed Services hearing, Rep. Ellen Tauscher, a California Democrat, asked Myers whether the American forces in Iraq "could get out safely if we were told we had to leave?"

"We have the authority under United Nations resolutions to stay in Iraq," Myers said. "We are not going to be asked to leave."

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