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Bush Iraq Speeches Come Amid Doubts on War Effort


President Bush began a new effort Monday to boost domestic support for the war in Iraq. The renewed focus on the home front comes in the wake of numerous public opinion polls that indicate growing public concern about U.S. casualties and the chances for success in Iraq.

In a speech in Washington, President Bush said Iraqi security forces continue to make progress in taking on the terrorists and insurgents, and that the United States remains determined to help stabilize the country and build a democracy.

"The terrorists are losing on the field of battle, so they are fighting this war through the pictures we see on television and in the newspapers every day," said President Bush. "They are hoping to shake our resolve and force us to retreat. They are not going to succeed."

Monday's speech is the first in another series of addresses aimed at bolstering domestic support for the Iraq effort.

Mr. Bush gave a series of speeches on Iraq late last year, but poll numbers indicate public support for the war has changed little since then, with a majority of Americans continuing to believe that the war was a mistake and not worth the cost.

Even those opposition Democrats who support the U.S. presence in Iraq question whether another round of speeches on Iraq will help sway the public.

Democratic Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware spoke on NBC's Meet the Press program.

"The president, instead of deciding to make a series of speeches here at home, should be on a plane," said Joseph Biden. "He should get on a plane and be dealing with world leaders to try and generate an international consensus to put international pressure on the parties [in Iraq] to make the concessions that are needed."

Congressional Republicans are by and large sticking with the president on Iraq. But many of them are aware of public unease over the issue as they campaign for the November congressional elections.

Republican Senator George Allen of Virginia is running for re-election this year and is considering a run for president in 2008. He also spoke on NBC's Meet the Press.

"Yes, these are tough times in Iraq," said George Allen. "Let us not get everyone so depressed, so demoralized about things. It is difficult."

Thomas Mann is a political analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington. He says Republicans do have reason for concern.

"Unless the situation there improves dramatically, unless we get a genuine political agreement that reduces the level of violence and allows American troops to begin to come home, his ratings will probably stay around 40 percent or lower and that means big, big trouble for the Republicans in the midterm elections," said Thomas Mann.

Opposition Democrats believe public dissatisfaction with the president's handling of Iraq could help them gain seats in November. Democrats lost control of both the Senate and House of Representatives in 1994.

Michael Barone is an expert on congressional elections.

"Republicans are nervous looking towards the 2006 House elections," said Michael Barone. "Most House Republicans are nervous about that. This is clearly the Democrats best shot at picking up a majority of the House since 2000 and they only have to gain 15 seats."

Democrats remain divided on Iraq. One faction of the party supports a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces over a period of months, while other Democrats remain supportive of the overall mission in Iraq but disagree with the president on strategy and tactics.

Stuart Rothenberg publishes a political newsletter in Washington.

"The Democrats do not have to provide alternatives to policies, at least not now, not until we get much closer to the 2006 elections," said Stuart Rothenberg. "At the moment, they are an alternative simply because they are not the president, and that is a pretty good place for them to be."

Most analysts expect Iraq will be a major election issue in November when all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 33 of the 100 Senate seats will be at stake.

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