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Bush: Iraqis Have Taken a 'Step Back' From Sectarian Violence


President Bush says Iraq has taken a step back from deeper sectarian violence that followed the bombing of a sacred Shi'ite shrine. The president plans a series of speeches meant to reassure Americans about his strategy for success in Iraq.

President Bush says the sectarian violence that followed last month's bombing of a sacred shrine in Samara has mostly subsided, with relative calm in 16 of Iraq's 18 provinces.

"No question there was violence and killing," he said. "The society took a step back from the abyss, and people took a sober reflection about what a civil war would mean."

The president praised the work of Iraqi security forces and religious leaders in calming retaliatory attacks following the mosque bombing.

Mr. Bush was briefed by U.S. commanders in Iraq Friday morning, and said he is hopeful about President Jalal Talabani's plans to hold the first session of a new parliament on March 19.

"One of the keys is going to be to get a unity government up and running, a government that reflects the diversity of the country," said Mr. Bush. "We talked about that today. We want the Iraqis to make that selection, of course. They are the ones who got elected by the people. They are the ones who must form the government, but we are going to continue to remind them that the sooner they can get a unity government up and running, the more confidence the people will have in their future."

White House Spokesman Scott McClellan says President Bush plans a series of speeches this month meant to keep Americans informed about his strategy for success in Iraq.

Public opinion polls show falling support for the president's handling of that conflict.

McClellan says Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will also take part in the public outreach.

Asked how this series of speeches on the administration's political, military and economic plans for success in Iraq will differ from a similar campaign at the end of last year, McClellan noted the third anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein is approaching.

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