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Bush: 'Now Is the Time to Act'

President Bush has announced he will send about 20,000 additional troops to Iraq to help break the cycle of violence in that country. Mr. Bush made the announcement in a televised address to the nation Wednesday, in which he outlined a new strategy for winning the Iraq war -- while also taking responsibility for mistakes made so far in the conflict. The new policy puts the president on a collision course with the Democratic majority in Congress and faces skepticism from an American public that has grown weary over the lack of progress in the war. More from VOA's Bill Rodgers.

Sending more troops to Iraq is the centerpiece of the new strategy. The additional soldiers will be deployed to help Iraqi forces quell the sectarian and insurgent violence, primarily in Baghdad. In his speech, Mr. Bush acknowledged previous efforts did not succeed.

"Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons: There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents. And there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have."

Suicide car bombings and other acts of violence have been escalating in Baghdad for months, leaving thousands of civilians dead. The bombing of a prominent Shi'ite mosque last year aggravated sectarian violence between minority Sunnis and majority Shias.

President Bush said Wednesday the Iraqi government will deploy its security forces across Baghdad, establishing checkpoints and going into neighborhoods dominated by insurgents. He also made clear the U.S. troop increase will coincide with actions by the Shi'te-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to end sectarian violence.

"I have made it clear to the Prime Minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people -- and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people," said the president. "Now is the time to act."

A top priority will be to disband the militias -- especially the Mahdi Army led by radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. The cleric is a key political ally of Mr. Maliki. But the prime minister has said his government will not tolerate sectarian interference.

Overall, Mr. Bush said prevailing in Iraq is part of the wider war against al-Qaida and other terrorist groups, which the United States must win.

But opposition Democrats are unconvinced Mr. Bush's Iraq strategy will work. Senator Dick Durbin delivered the party's response to Mr. Bush. "Escalation of this war is not the change the American people called for in the last election. Instead of a new direction, the president's plan moves the American commitment in Iraq in the wrong direction."

Earlier Wednesday, Congressional leaders from both parties met with President Bush to discuss the strategy. Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who is Speaker of the House of Representatives, pledged to hold a vote on the president's policy.

"The American people have lost confidence in the president's policy," said the speaker. "We're hopeful that tonight he will restore that confidence. We will give his proposal a fair hearing and we'll establish the ground truth of what is happening in Iraq and then we will vote on the president's proposal."

For their part, Republican Congressional leaders emerged from their meeting expressing support for the president. "I think the [Bush] administration has put together a good plan," said House Minority leader John Boehner. "It is our best shot at victory in Iraq. And I think that is what the American people want and expect."

Opinion polls show most Americans disapprove of the way Mr. Bush has handled the Iraq war. Wednesday's speech was aimed at changing their minds, and giving the policy another chance at achieving success.