WASHINGTON, June 24: President George W. Bush on Friday refused to set a timetable for withdrawing US troops from Iraq because “it would allow Iraqi insurgents to wait us out.”

“There are not going to be any timetables. I have told this to [Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari]. We are there to complete a mission, and it’s an important mission,” Mr Bush said at a joint press conference following a White House meeting with the Iraqi premier.

Mr Jaafri also stressed the need to keep US troops in Iraq, saying that “this is not the time to fall back.”

Mr Bush said that setting a timetable would simply give insurgents in Iraq incentive to ‘wait us out’ and “that’s why it makes no sense to have a timetable.”

“In other words, they figure if they can shake our will and, you know, affect public opinion, then politicians will give up on the mission,” said the US president but hastily added that he would not allow the insurgents to achieve this goal. “I’m not giving up on the mission.”

Mr Bush said he understood public wariness over the situation in Iraq but added that substantial progress had already been made towards democracy. He said insurgents were attempting to scare the American and Iraqi public into giving up efforts to establish democracy.

“The way ahead is not going to be easy. The killings and roadside bombings that we see underscore that freedom in Iraq is opposed by a violent and ruthless enemy with no regard for human life,” he said.

His meeting with Mr Jaafri followed calls in Congress to withdraw US troops and a decline in public support for a war that has so far killed 1,725 US soldiers and wounded 6,442.

Mr Bush plans to address the American nation on June 28 to mark the first year of the inception of a transitional government in Baghdad and to shore up support for his decision to keep US troops in that country.

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