US President George W. Bush yesterday laid out his most detailed strategy yet for winning the Iraq war, but warned there would be violence there "for many years to come" and declined to set a date for a US pullout.
In remarks at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, he was to tout progress in training Iraqi security forces in the first of a series of speeches aiming to reassure the wary US public ahead of Iraq's Dec. 15 elections.
Bush's national security council said in a newly released policy paper that it expected to cut the US military presence next year but warned there was no "date certain" for a complete pullout or for victory.
"No war has ever been won on a timetable and neither will this one," it said in the 35-page National Strategy for Victory in Iraq, which aimed to counter mounting criticism that the president lacked an exit strategy.
Long-term victory will come when Iraq is "peaceful, united, stable and secure, well integrated into the international community and a full partner in the war on terrorism," according to the document.
"Many challenges remain," it said, warning that "terrorism and insurgencies historically take many years to defeat" and that "Iraq is likely to struggle with some level of violence for many years to come."
The policy paper blamed Syria and Iran for creating an "inhospitable" climate for Iraqi democracy by backing insurgents and terrorists and -- without naming names -- complained that other countries in the region had "only recently mobilized" to help.
It also shed little light on the constantly fluctuating assessments of how many of Iraq's security forces can operate independently of the US military.
There are currently around 159,000 US troops there, and about 2,100 have been killed since Bush launched the March 2003 invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, most in the insurgency that followed.
"Although we are confident of victory in Iraq, we will not put a date certain on when each stage of success will be reached, because the timing of success depends upon meeting certain conditions, not arbitrary timetables," it said.
Confirming recent statements by the White House and the Pentagon, the policy paper suggested that the US military would reduce its presence in Iraq next year after building them up ahead of the country's Dec. 15 elections.
"We expect, but cannot guarantee, that our force posture will change over the next year, as the political process advances and Iraqi security forces grow and gain experience," it said.
That could mean a reduction in the US military presence ahead of the November US legislative elections at a time when Bush's Republicans worry the unpopular war will cost them dearly in the voting booth.
On the subject of Iraqi security forces, the report said 212,000 were "trained and equipped" versus 96,000 in September last year, but it was unclear how much US support they required.
US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in late 2003 that there were "close to 100,000 Iraqis currently under arms," and the top US commander in Iraq said in September that only about 700 Iraqi troops could operate without US troops.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said on Tuesday that the strategy paper was a declassified version of the plan US officials have been working from for some time.