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Bush: Iraq an Ally of 'Growing Strength'

In a primetime speech from the Oval Office, President Bush asserted that the United States is winning the war in Iraq, but admitted setbacks and the doubts of some "that the war is lost and not worth another dime or another day."

The president condemned those who have spoken out against the war as "defeatists" and called upon Americans to have "patience" as U.S. forces pursued a "difficult, noble and necessary cause."

"We are making steady gains with a clear objective in view," Bush said in what marks only his second speech from the Oval Office since the war began. "America, our coalition and Iraqi leaders are working toward the same goal: a democratic Iraq that can defend itself."

The address was the culmination of a series of speeches designed to shore up public support. Public opinion polls show a sizeable majority of Americans don't believe the president has a solid plan for victory in Iraq.

In four other recent major speeches, Bush acknowledged setbacks and surprises in the war and took responsibility for ordering the invasion on the basis of inaccurate intelligence.

"I know that some of my decisions have led to terrible loss, and not one of those decisions has been taken lightly," he said. "I know that this war is controversial, yet being your president requires doing what I believe is right and accepting the consequences."

Bush said last week's voting for parliament will not bring an end to the violence in Iraq, where he has estimated that 30,000 civilians have died. But he said Iraq's election, 6,000 miles away, "means that America has an ally of growing strength in the fight against terror."

Transferring more control of territory to Iraqi units and the construction of Iraq's economy and infrastructure are key elements in the White House strategy for victory, said Bush. Currently, more than 125 Iraqi combat battalions were fighting insurgents, with more than 50 battalions taking the lead, he said.

A considerable voter turnout and relative lack of violence during last week's parliamentary election suggest that the president's plan may work, said Anthony Cordesman, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

Insurgents are facing an Iraqi force that is in fact expanding -- significant factor behind the containment of most of the insurrection and violence to four of Iraq's 18 provinces, he said.

"If the political side holds together, and Iraqi forces do to continue to come online, the strategy the president has outlined can work," Cordesman told NPR.

Democrats were scornful even before the president spoke.

Regarding a turnover to Iraqi troops, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said Bush "has to tell us how we're going to get there. The people on the ground said there is one battalion that can fight alone."

Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) has said the United States should redeploy all troops as quickly as possible because more than half of the Iraqi people "want us out, and almost half of them think we're the enemy."

A new poll shows that a strong majority of Americans oppose an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops. The AP-Ipsos poll found 57 percent of those surveyed said the U.S. military should stay until Iraq is stabilized.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.