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Bush lashes out at Iraq policy critics

WASHINGTON -- President Bush, rejecting criticism that he has lost control of his Iraq policy amid staff infighting, said yesterday that "the person who is in charge is me" and that his strategy is producing solid results.

Bush, in a series of interviews, addressed accusations that the White House misjudged the tasks involved in postwar Iraq, does not have an exit strategy, and has let its strategy get bogged down in turf fights. The problem was underlined when a senior Republican, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, "The president has to be president."

"If the people don't think I'm doing my job, they'll find somebody" else, Bush said.

"That's my attitude," he told Tribune Broadcasting. "Look, I just don't make decisions on polls."

Bush in recent weeks protested that progress in Iraq has not been adequately reported because of the "filter" of the news media.

He took aim again yesterday at the media's Iraq coverage.

"There's a sense that people in America aren't getting the truth," he told Hearst-Argyle Television. "I'm mindful of the filter through which some news travels, and sometimes you just have to go over the heads of the filter and speak directly to the people."

Bush sat for brief interviews with regional television outlets, trying to reach beyond Washington with his message.

Refusing to put a timetable on the US military occupation of Iraq, Bush said, "The definition of when we get out is when there is a free and peaceful Iraq based upon a constitution and elections, and obviously we'd like that to happen as quickly as possible. But we are mindful of rushing the process, which would create the conditions for failure.

"If we were to get out right now it would be a terrible mistake," Bush told Tribune Broadcasting. "A free and peaceful Iraq is in this nation's interest."

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