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White House: Bush Holds Video Teleconference With Iraqi Leaders

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush had a nearly hour-long secure video teleconference with Iraqi leaders on Monday and came away impressed and reassured by the progress they're making on political, security and economic reforms, the White House said.

``It's clear that you've got an environment now where the key leaders are working together on these issues,'' during the 52-minute teleconference the president had with Iraq's prime minister, president and two vice presidents, White House press secretary Tony Snow said.

Snow acknowledged that U.S. officials have heard similar positive statements from Iraqi leaders before, but said: ``We think they are very serious in moving on the key items. ... I think the president was impressed and reassured by the sense of seriousness that he heard''

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also was assessing the situation in Iraq in a meeting at the State Department with Iraqi foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari. Bush and Rice's meetings came a day after Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Baghdad, warned it could take as long as a decade to stabilize Iraq.

Petraeus said insurgents pushing back on newly aggressive coalition military forces have led to continued violence in Iraq, describing an ebb-and-flow of sectarian murders in Baghdad.

``The fact is that as we go on the offensive, the enemy is going to respond,'' Petraeus said. ``That is what has happened.''

Petraeus also described a ``stunning reversal'' in the Anbar province, a former al-Qaida stronghold west of the city where tribes have begun to help fight the terror organization.

Snow said Petraeus was just pointing out that counterinsurgency is something that does takes. ``That does not mean that you're going to be in forward combat operation posture for 10 years,'' he said.

A Pentagon report released last week concluded that violence in Iraq edged higher during a four-month period between February and May _ despite the U.S.-led security push in Baghdad.

The report also raised questions about Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's ability to fulfill a pledge made in January to prohibit political interference in security operations and to allow no safe havens for sectarian militias.

Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, on Sunday called the situation in Iraq ``a mixed picture, but certainly not a hopeless one.'' He noted frustrations among signs of progress, and cautioned against withdrawing troops too soon.

Also Sunday, the Senate's top Republican said that the Iraqis need to step up their own efforts as the U.S. scales back troops in the wake of rising violence in and around Baghdad.

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky expressed disappointment with the Iraqi government's progress in stemming violence and said the U.S. presence there ``will be different in the fall.''

``I don't think we'll have the same level of troops, in all likelihood, that we have now,'' McConnell said. ``The Iraqis will have to step up, not only on the political side, but on the military side to a greater extent. We're not there forever.''

Congress is waiting for another progress report, due in September, on whether the increase in U.S. troops in Iraq has been successful.

In an interview in Newsweek, al-Maliki avoided being drawn into the debate between the Bush administration and Congress. The U.S. ``helped us by toppling the regime and accomplishing many steps of the political process but they still can leave,'' al-Maliki said. ``If the consequences of staying are bigger than the consequences of leaving, they will leave.''

Crocker said the Iraqis also are frustrated with their slow progress but are ``very close'' to agreement on a plan for managing the country's oil production and share resources.

Petraeus spoke on ``Fox News Sunday.'' Crocker was interviewed from Baghdad on NBC's ``Meet the Press.'' McConnell appeared on CBS' ``Face the Nation.''
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