During a White House press conference Mr Bush was asked whether all US forces would someday leave the war-torn country. He replied: “That, of course, is an objective. And that will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq.”
The comments from Mr Bush, whose term ends in January 2009, came amid fresh violence in Iraq as about 100 insurgents stormed a police station in the town of Muqdadiya, northeast of Baghdad, killing 18 policemen.
At the Washington press conference, Mr Bush also denied that Iraq was on the brink of civil war.
“There’s going to be more tough fighting ahead,” he said, but “the Iraqis took a look and decided not to go to civil war” after the attack on a revered Shiite Muslim shrine.
“I’m optimistic — we’ll succeed. If not, I’d pull our troops out. If I didn’t believe we had a plan for victory, I wouldn’t leave our people in harm’s way,” he said. “I wouldn’t put those kids there.”
Some 2,300 US soldiers have been killed and many more wounded since the war in Iraq began almost exactly three years ago.
For the second straight day, Mr Bush took on critics who say his sunny forecasts for Iraq are out of touch with the bloody daily reality, insisting he was “realistic” and warning against a hasty US withdrawal.
“I fully understand the consequences of this war. I understand people’s lives are being lost,” he said. “For every act of violence, there is encouraging progress in Iraq that’s hard to capture on the evening news.”
Police station raid
Meanwhile the violence in Iraq continued.
The Consultative Council of Mujahedeen, an umbrella insurgent grouping linked to al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for a pre-dawn raid on a police station in the town of Muqdadiya, northeast of Baghdad, in which 32 insurgents were set free.
Army and police commandos were rushed to hunt down the large rebel force and recapture the prisoners.
Mayor Alewi Farhan described a sophisticated operation lasting an hour and a half that involved 200 insurgents using an array of weapons.
“The insurgents pulled off a very well-planned attack,” he said, describing how a car bomb sealed the eastern road to the site and a roadside bomb blocked the southern road, impeding reinforcements.
Officials said at least 18 policemen and guards were killed, along with 10 rebels, in the raid on a compound housing the town’s main police station, courthouse and municipal offices.
Insurgents battled Iraqi and US reinforcements, set fire to the police station, courthouse and police vehicles before making their escape.
The detainees were being held on a number of charges, including insurgent activity.
The fighting led to the capture of 16 wounded insurgents.
Police later threw a cordon around the town and the army swept the area looking for the rebels.