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Bush Defends Iraq War Strategy

President Bush says it is too soon to judge the success of his decision to send more troops to Iraq. VOA White House correspondent Scott Stearns reports, opposition Democrats say it is time to start bringing those troops home.

President Bush used his weekly radio address to defend the recent administration report on mixed progress in Iraq, saying his strategy for success is built on the premise that greater security will pave the way for political reconciliation.

"This report shows that conditions can change, progress can be made, and the fight in Iraq can be won," he said.

The president says 30,000 additional U.S. troops deserve the chance to show that they can help restore security and aid Iraq's government in protecting its own people.

When he launched this new strategy in January, President Bush said it would be different from earlier efforts because more Iraqi troops would join the fight and the government there would stop interfering in how those troops are used.

But the interim report to Congress says since January, fewer Iraqi units can operate independently of U.S. troops. It also gives the Baghdad government unsatisfactory marks for failing to prepare for local elections that could reconcile Iraq's Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish factions.

Two senior senators from Mr. Bush's own Republican Party are pressing the president to begin planning for the redeployment of U.S. troops. Their proposal is a further sign of falling support for the war among Republicans, but is less than opposition Democrats are demanding. They are seeking a timetable for withdrawal that would have all U.S. combat forces out of Iraq by next April.

A public opinion poll by Newsweek magazine last week says 68 percent of Americans disapprove of how the president is handling the war.

In the Democratic radio address, former infantryman Brandon Friedman says nearly 600 Americans have been killed since the president announced his new strategy in January, yet there has been little improvement in the situation there.

"It is past time for the transition to diplomatic efforts in Iraq that Democrats have long demanded," said Friedman. "The fact is, the Iraq war has kept us from devoting assets we need to fight terrorists worldwide, as evidenced by the fact that Osama bin Laden is still on the loose and al-Qaida has been able to rebuild. We need an effective, offensive strategy that takes the fight to our real enemies abroad, and the best way to do that is to get our troops out of the civil war in Iraq."

President Bush says he wants to get U.S. troops out of Iraq as well, but only when conditions on the ground are right.

"To begin to bring troops home before our commanders tell us we are ready would be dangerous for our country," he said. "It would mean surrendering the future of Iraq to al-Qaida, risking a humanitarian catastrophe, and allowing the terrorists to establish a safe haven in Iraq and gain control of vast oil resources they could use to fund new attacks on America."

Mr. Bush continues to link the war in Iraq with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. He says he will veto any legislation that seeks to bring U.S. troops home before commanders say they have won.

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