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Sovereignty in Iraq One Year Old


Tuesday is the first anniversary of the transfer of sovereignty in Iraq, and President Bush is scheduled to mark the occasion with a nationwide televised address. The speech comes at a time when the violent Iraqi insurgency appears to be testing the resolve of Americans and Iraqis, as public opinion polls show U.S. support for the conflict is declining.

President Bush's speech is a major part of the White House campaign to focus attention on positive developments in Iraq.

Administration officials are concerned that daily reports of suicide bombings and a mounting death toll are hurting public support for the war and the reconstruction of Iraq.

A recent CBS News / New York Times public opinion survey shows only 37 percent of Americans approve of the president's handling of the war in Iraq. That is down from 45 percent in February.

Mr. Bush says those behind the bloody insurgency are trying to undermine public support, both in Iraq and the United States.

George W. Bush
"Their whole attempt is to frighten the people of both our countries. That is what they are trying to do. They figure that, if they can shake our will and affect public opinion, then politicians will give up on the mission. I'm not giving up on the mission. We are doing the right thing," said Mr. Bush.

More than 1,700 Americans have been killed in the conflict and President Bush says the best way to honor them is to complete the mission.

He has rejected calls from some members of the U.S. Congress to set a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops, saying it could strengthen the insurgency.

The Pentagon has been training Iraqi soldiers to replace American troops, and says so far about 170,000 Iraqi security forces have been recruited, trained, equipped and deployed.

The commander of the Multinational Corps in Iraq, Lieutenant General John Vines, says the newly trained Iraqi troops are performing well.

"Their performance on the whole has been very good. Where they're well led, they've proven that they are patriotic, they're willing to fight, and they do extraordinarily well," he said.

Iraq's Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, predicts that at the current level of training, multinational forces could begin to leave his country early next year.

"If there would be some withdrawal, let's say in early 2006, I think it would be understandable because by then the capacity of our military forces would be greater and better equipped, better trained. Already on the ground, really, there are many responsibilities that are being transferred gradually to Iraqi units from the multinational forces," said Mr. Zebari.

U.S. military officials say many of the suicide bombers in Iraq are coming from countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen and Sudan.

High-level administration officials, like Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, are putting pressure on Syria to better secure its porous border with Iraq.

"We all recognize our obligation to help Iraq fulfill the promise of its democratic transformation," said Ms. Rice. "Iraq's neighbors, Syria in particular, must secure their borders from those who seek to destroy Iraq's progress."

Critics of the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq, such as Senator Joe Biden, argue White House officials are making misleading statements about the war.

Senator Biden, who recently returned from a tour of Iraq, says administration officials are issuing overly positive assessments of the situation there.

"The disconnect between the administration's rhetoric and the reality on the ground has opened not just a credibility gap, but a credibility chasm. Standing right in the middle of that chasm are 139,000 American troops, some of them, some of them, on their third tour," noted Mr. Biden.

The most immediate political challenge facing the new Iraqi government is the drafting of a new constitution by August 15.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan says it is critical that all ethnic and religious groups are involved in the process.

"Iraqis must come together to draft a new constitution in an inclusive, participatory, transparent process that responds to the demands of all constituencies. Achieving consensus on a new constitution will require compromise, but we have seen that compromise is possible and that it bears fruits," said Mr. Annan.

If the Iraqi transitional assembly drafts a constitution by August, it is scheduled to be voted on in a nationwide referendum in October.

Elections for a permanent government would then be held in December, with elected officials taking office in Iraq by the end of this year.

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