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Bush Reiterates Support for Iraq, Acknowledges Challenges


President Bush is promising more help for Iraq's new government, following his surprise trip to Baghdad this past week. Opposition Democrats say the president is not moving fast enough to get U.S. troops home. Meanwhile, violence continues. Iraqi police say at least 23 people are dead following bombings and a mortar attack in the capital.

Iraqi security officials say insurgents launched a series of deadly attacks across Baghdad, despite tens-of-thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops engaged in a security crackdown.

Authorities say civilians and police were targeted in the bombings and mortar attack.

President Bush says troops from the U.S.-led coalition are part of the effort to restore security in high-risk areas of the capital in support of a new government that he says is determined to succeed.

In his weekly radio address, Mr. Bush said he was impressed during his face-to-face talks in Baghdad with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and members of his Cabinet. The president says he will increase U.S. assistance to help them increase oil and electricity production, create jobs, rein in illegal militia and promote reconciliation.

"I told them that the future of Iraq is in their hands," said Mr. Bush. "And I told them that America is a nation that keeps its word, and America will stand with them as we work toward our shared goal: a free Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself."

A public opinion poll taken after the president's trip to Baghdad put approval for his handling of Iraq at 39 percent, up from 34 percent last month. The CNN poll says a majority of Americans still believe sending U.S. troops to Iraq was a mistake.

Iraq is a big part of Congressional campaigning for November elections. President Bush is trying to strike a balance between promoting real progress and being frank about the dangers ahead.

"The challenges that remain in Iraq are serious," he added. "We face determined enemies, who remain intent on killing the innocent. And, defeating these enemies will require more sacrifice and the continued patience of our country. But our efforts in Iraq are well worth it. The mission is necessary for the security of our country, and we will succeed."

President Bush is supported by more than 70 percent of his own party and opposed by more than 80 percent of Democrats. What has changed in the two years since his re-election is support among political independents, more than two-thirds of whom now disapprove of the way Mr. Bush is handling the war.

Opposition Democrats hope to capitalize. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi used her party's weekly radio address to promote an agenda for the November elections, called a New Direction for America. She says it is time Iraq assumes more responsibility for its own security.

"For the last three years, the president has continued to ask us to stay the course. Stay the course? Despite the continued cost in lives, to our military readiness and to our reputation in the world? Americans know and Democrats agree that we must change the course," she said.

Pelosi says 2006 must be a year of significant transition in Iraq, with U.S. troops out of the country at the earliest practical time. She stopped short of calling for a timetable for that withdrawal, an issue that has divided some of her party's leading presidential contenders.

President Bush says such a timetable would only embolden the enemy, vowing that the timing of a withdrawal will be dictated by military not political considerations.

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