Bush praises Iraqi elections and hints at US withdrawal

GEORGE BUSH praised the recent elections in the Middle East and Afghanistan yesterday, saying that Sunday's historic vote in Iraq opened "a new phase" in US operations there, that could lead to a reduction in America's military presence there.

In remarks prepared for the first State of the Union address of his second term, Mr Bush said that US troops - currently numbering some 150,000 - would increasingly focus their efforts on training Iraqi security forces to keep the country safe.

The aim was to prepare "more capable Iraqi security forces - forces with skilled officers and an effective command structure." Once that is done, administration officials have repeatedly said that US units would be gradually brought home, though they refuse to give any firm timetable.

In his traditional annual speech to both chambers of Congress, the President developed the lofty themes of his second inaugural last month, vowing a renewed push for peace between Israel and the Palestinians and declaring that the only means of halting tyranny and terror "is the force of human freedom."

Clearly buoyed by what are generally seen as surprisingly successful Iraqi elections, following on the heels of similar exercises in the Palestinian territories and Afghanistan, Mr Bush was expected to unveil a new aid package for the Palestinians worth up to $350m (pounds 185m), as a sign of his backing for the new leader Mahmoud Abbas.

But after a first term dominated by the "war on terror" and the invasion of Iraq, the emphasis last night was on his ambitious domestic agenda, topped by the boldest attempt to reform America's social security system in its 70-year history.

In his speech, aides said, Mr Bush would give a more detailed picture of his plan to part-privatise the federal pension and unemployment benefit programme. He is also urging Congress to move on several initiatives, including bills to reform tort law, simplify the tax code and modernise US immigration laws.

But despite the enlarged Republican majorities in both House and Senate that emerged from the November 2004 election, he faces an uphill path on all fronts, especially his contentious bid to overhaul social security.

Democrats are almost to a man against it, and Harry Reid, the party's leader in the Senate, warned the President this week to "face the fact" that social security reform in the shape Mr Bush envisaged did not have a hope of passage.

But many Republicans too have misgivings about the cost of the measure, which could add up to $2 trillion to future budget deficits. Other conservative Republicans strongly oppose the President's immigration plans, which they say amounts to an amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants. In effect, Mr Bush has the next two years to achieve his goals. After the 2006 mid-term elections, he will increasingly assume `lame duck' status, as minds focus on the 2008 Presidential race and the eventual successor.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas