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Bush Certain Democracy Will Succeed in Iraq Despite Criticism He Lacks Clear Strategy for Withdrawal - 2004-05-01

One year ago today, President Bush declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq. Since then, nearly 600 U.S soldiers have been killed, and Democrats say the president lacks a clear strategy for getting out of Iraq.

The president's highly-publicized visit to a U.S. aircraft carrier last May 1 included a banner reading Mission Accomplished, under which Mr. Bush said U.S. troops and their allies had prevailed in Iraq.

But as fighting there has continued over the last year, public support for the war and the president's overall approval ratings have dropped from about 70 percent to just over 50 percent.

While White House officials say increasing violence in April was not a return to major combat, they are mindful of the political impact of the war's deadliest month so far, with more than four times as many soldiers killed in the last year as died during the fight for Baghdad.

In his weekly radio address, President Bush said he went to the aircraft carrier a year ago to thank U.S. troops for their courage and professionalism in confronting what he called a gathering danger to the world.

"On that day, I also cautioned Americans that, while a tyrant had fallen, the war against terror would go on," the president noted. "One year later, despite many challenges, life for the Iraqi people is a world away from the cruelty and corruption of Saddam's regime."

In Iraq, Mr. Bush says U.S. forces are facing serious and continuing challenges from illegal militias, members of the former regime, and foreign terrorists trying to grab power.

They will fail, the president says, because the coalition will hand over power to a transitional civilian administration by the end of June.

"We will finish our work in Iraq, because the stakes for our country and the world are high," Mr. Bush stressed. "The failure of Iraqi democracy would embolden terrorists around the globe, increase dangers to the American people, and extinguish the hopes of millions in the Middle East. The success of Iraqi democracy would send forth the news, from Damascus to Tehran, that freedom can be the future of every nation."

As the June 30 transfer of sovereignty approaches, Mr. Bush says U.S. troops are likely to see more violence, but he says they will not be intimidated or diverted.

In the Democratic response to the president's radio address, former Army National Guard platoon leader Paul Rieckhoff, said his 10 months of service in Iraq showed him that the operation is deeply flawed.

"Mr. President, our mission is not accomplished. Our troops can accomplish it. We can build a stable Iraq. But we need some help," he said. The soldiers I served with are men and women of extraordinary courage and incredible capability, but it's time we had leadership in Washington to match that courage and match that capability."

Mr. Rieckhoff says his platoon lacked regular supplies of drinking water, batteries, medical supplies, and body armor. He says his soldiers were not properly trained for civilian operations and did not have enough translators or reinforcements.

"I'm not angry with our president, but I am disappointed," he said. "I don't expect an easy solution to the situation in Iraq. I do expect an admission that there are serious problems that need serious solutions. I don't expect our leaders to be free of mistakes. I expect our leaders to own up to them."

Mr. Rieckhoff wonders when President Bush will take responsibility for errors in Iraq. Mr. Bush says it appears there were mistakes in pre-war intelligence about the country's weapons programs, but he says the invasion was the right thing because Saddam Hussein was a threat to the United States.