Three months after President Bush declared the end of major combat operations in Iraq, there is still considerable debate over the administration's efforts to rebuild the country after the fall of Saddam Hussein. President Bush insists significant progress is being made, but critics are concerned about continuing violence in the country and what they say is the lack of significant international support for the reconstruction of Iraq.
At his first full-scale news conference in nearly five months, President Bush told reporters the situation in most of Iraq is improving, although pockets of resistance are still trying to demoralize coalition forces.
"Conditions in most of Iraq are growing more peaceful," he said. "Some areas, however, the violent remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime, joined by terrorists and criminals, are making a last attempt to frighten the Iraqi people and to undermine the resolve of our coalition. They will fail. Our coalition forces are taking the fight to the enemy in an unrelenting campaign that is bringing daily results. Saddam Hussein's sons did not escape the raids, and neither will other members of that despicable regime."
U.S. Senator Joseph Biden, the senior member of the opposition Democratic Party on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says there still are major security problems in Iraq, particularly in the so-called Sunni Triangle, a geographic area north and west of Baghdad.
Senator Biden, in a recent foreign policy speech at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, said there is only a small window of opportunity left for coalition forces to stabilize the situation.
"It would be a tragedy if we removed a tyrant and replaced it only with chaos," he said. "But that is exactly what could happen unless we make some significant changes and quickly."
U.S. officials involved in the reconstruction of Iraq say, with the exception of the electricity supply to Baghdad, most basic services to Iraqis have returned to prewar levels in much of the country.
President Bush says that, as improvements are made, more Iraqis will be ready to step forward and join the effort to rebuild the country.
"We are making progress," he said. "It is slowly but surely making progress of bringing the those who terrorize their fellow citizens to justice, and making progress about convincing the Iraqi people that freedom is real. And as they become more convinced that freedom is real, they will begin to assume more responsibilities that are required in a free society."
President Bush has rejected criticism that he overstated the urgency of going to war in Iraq, although critics like Senator Biden argue the administration exaggerated the threat of weapons of mass destruction.
"They hyped, I am not saying they lied, they hyped," said Senator Biden. "I don't believe the president of the United States lied to anybody. I do not believe that. But I do believe he was incredibly ill served by those in his administration who exaggerated the very pieces of intelligence that they thought could get the most support cause the most support within the United States."
President Bush says he remains confident coalition forces will find proof the former Iraqi government had a program to manufacture weapons of mass destruction.
He concedes, however, solid confirmation will be needed to silence those who questions why such weapons have not been found months after the capture of Baghdad.
"And in order to placate the critics and the cynics about intentions of the United States, we need to produce evidence," he said. "And I fully understand that. And I am confident that our search will yield that which I strongly believe, that Saddam had a weapons program."
Senator Biden says now that the focus has turned to the reconstruction of Iraq, the Bush administration needs to begin replacing U.S. soldiers with troops from NATO countries and other nations.
"We did not need a single troop from any other nation in the world to defeat Saddam Hussein," he emphasized. "But we badly need it and badly need other troops, other countries, to share the much more difficult burden and responsibility of winning the peace."
The United States is now spending $4 billion a month to maintain nearly 150,000 troops in Iraq.
About 30 other countries have pledged to take part in peacekeeping operations in the country, although American troops will continue to dominate the coalition force.