Quote of the day

President Bush speaks about the fighting in Basra, Iraq.

By Alex Koppelman
Published March 27, 2008 5:17PM (EDT)

Question: In Iraq, there's been a recent upsurge again in violence, which appears to have emanated in the area of Basra, which Britain used to control. Do you believe recent events there serve as a warning to those in your country and beyond who have counseled you to withdraw rapidly?

Bush: My first reaction to watching the Iraqi government respond forcefully and to make it abundantly clear that -- I think the exact -- I can't remember the exact words of the Prime Minister, but "criminal elements" I know were a part of his declaration -- would be dealt with. I thought that was a very positive moment in the development of a sovereign nation, that is willing to take on elements that are -- you know, that believe they're beyond the law.

And secondly, we are helping, but it's important to know that the Iraqis are in the lead. This is a positive moment in the development of a nation that can govern itself and defend itself and sustain itself. We will provide oversight and, on occasion, support when asked. This is an Iraqi operation.

And one of the things I'll be saying in the run-up to the Petraeus-Crocker testimony is that we have made substantial gains, but it's still a fragile situation. Therefore, the decision about our troop levels will be based upon not politics, or not who can scream the loudest, but based upon whether or not we can maintain the successes we've had. And I understand there's people here who want us to leave regardless of the situation, but that's not going to happen, so long as I'm the commander in chief.

That's President Bush, speaking to foreign press at a round-table discussion about an Iraqi government offensive that, as we discussed Wednesday, threatens to derail a vital cease-fire between the government and U.S. forces on one side and Muqtada al-Sadr's loyalists in the Mahdi Army on the other.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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George W. Bush Iraq Middle East War Room