CAMP DAVID, Md. -- President Bush reassured Iraqis on Monday that the United States stands ready to help their new government, but said success in Iraq largely depends on Baghdad's ability to secure the nation and care for its citizens.
Beginning a two-day strategy session on Iraq at Camp David, Bush also said Iraq's neighbors should be doing more to help. He said the United States expects countries that have promised $13 billion in financial assistance to make good on their pledges.
Bush's huddle with top advisers was a chance to outline ways the U.S. government can best help Iraq, where the power runs sporadically and Iraqi civilian and U.S. troop deaths are mounting. White House advisers said the U.S. mission in Iraq was at a breakpoint, rhetoric that suggests the administration is anxious to shift responsibility for the future of Iraq to the Iraqis.
"The best way to win this war against an insurgency is to stand up a unity government which is capable of defending itself, but also providing tangible benefits to the people," Bush said, standing outside a cabin at the secluded, wooded presidential retreat with his national security team and members of his Cabinet.
"Ultimately, the Iraqi people are going to have to make up their mind. Do they want to live in terror, or do they want to live in peace?" he said.
Now in its fourth year, the war also was an issue Monday on Capitol Hill.
The Senate opened debate on a military policy bill, and John Kerry, D-Mass., intended to offer a plan to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Iraq by the end of the year. The White House has long opposed setting deadlines in Iraq, and Kerry's amendment is expected to be defeated in a vote later this week.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, in a speech in Washington, called the war in Iraq an "intractable conflict" and said Americans deserve a plan from the president that provides troops with an exit strategy. "It is no longer sufficient to say 'we will stand down as the Iraqis stand up,"' Reid said, quoting a Bush refrain.
The House and Senate are poised to deal with a $94.5 billion measure to fund Iraq and provide additional aid for the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast. The bill should receive easy approval, even as impatience is growing with the Iraq war and its $8 billion monthly tab.
On Thursday, the House will vote on a resolution supporting the U.S. mission in Iraq.
The Camp David meeting came as the Bush administration was trying to capitalize on momentum