Dems. question Pres. Bush over plan for leaving Iraq - - Columbia, South Carolina |

Dems. question Pres. Bush over plan for leaving Iraq

(National-NBC) Feb. 1, 2005 - With Iraq's historic election over Bush administration officials claim the president's approach to Iraq has been validated. Congressional Democrats say the election should open the way for a clear exit strategy.

Democrats said they want a roadmap out of Iraq now that the elections are over. Administration officials insist the US strategy remains the same: get the security situation under control and eventually get out.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, "The election is a victory for the Iraqi people. ... It's a significant step forward for freedom, and it is a defeat for the terrorists."

And, President Bush won praise even from frequent critics of the handling of the war. NBC Analyst General Barry McCaffrey (ret.) says, "It was an endorsement for the political and moral courage of President Bush taking us into Iraq to take down this despotic, criminal regime."

The president of Iraq's interim government has put an end to speculation that they might ask US troops to leave any time soon. He says it would be complete nonsense to do so, because right now there is to much of a power vacuum in Iraq and the country's security forces aren't up to speed.

But, the day after the vote in Iraq three US Marines were killed in continued insurgent violence. Congressional Democrats said Sunday's election is a milestone, but demand the president spell out a broader US plan.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid says, "Most of all, we need an exit strategy, ... so that we know what victory is and how we can get there, so that we know what we need to do, and so that we know when the job is done."

Some Republicans say the president has won more patience from americans. Arizona Senator John McCain says, "The key to it is not when the troops come home. It's the casualites that creates the discontent amongst Americans."

The Bush plan still depends on training Iraqi forces to take over security, forces newly confident after their first big test Sunday on their own country's front lines. And, President Bush has been on the phone with leaders even of anti-war France and Germany with the hope Sunday's vote might also win new outside help in getting more Iraqi forces trained faster.

The first round of counting of the ballot is finished, which means we could get preliminary results as early as Wednesday. Ballots are being counted in two stages. The first round happened at the 5000-plus polling stations. Then all the ballots have been moved to Baghdad where they will be counted again and entered into a large computer data bank in the Green Zone. Those final results are expected to be available in seven to ten days.

Insurgents have vowed once again to continue their holy war here in Iraq, despite their failure to stop the elections and even though there was a stronger than expected turnout, which many interpret as a signal that they do not have widespread support from the Iraqi people.

updated 12:27pm by Chris Rees

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