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Bush and Maliki Discuss Security

U.S. President George Bush is backing Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's moves to improve security in Baghdad. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, the president's political opponents are criticizing his decision to send more troops to Iraq.

White House officials say President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki discussed plans for a joint security operation in Baghdad, with more than 18,000 additional U.S. forces joining redeployed Iraqi units to quell sectarian violence in the capital.

In this past week's State of the Union address, Mr. Bush said Iraq would be overrun by extremists, if American forces step back before Baghdad is secured.

Public opinion polls say a majority of Americans believe sending more troops to Iraq is a mistake. The president's plan has met with near-universal opposition from Democrats, who now control both houses of Congress.

In the Democratic radio address, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the costs of the war in Iraq have been staggering for military families and local communities. He says many police and firefighters, who are also members of the National Guard, have been called-up for duty in Iraq, leaving their communities less prepared to respond to emergencies.

"Now, with the president pushing escalation and an open-ended policy in Iraq, the pressure on our Guard will be even more severe," he said. "It's just another reason it is time to change course."

President Bush says America's involvement in Iraq is not open-ended, and he is changing course with a new strategy that holds Iraq's government to benchmarks for improving security and political cooperation.

Mr. Bush says critics of his plan have the responsibility to come up with a better alternative.

While Iraq continues to dominate Washington politics with an anti-war protest Saturday, President Bush used his weekly radio address to push his domestic agenda.

He wants Americans to cut their gasoline usage 20 percent over the next 10 years by using more alternative fuels and more fuel-efficient vehicles.

"Our nation's dependence on oil leaves us vulnerable to hostile regimes and terrorists, who can hurt our economy by disrupting our oil supply," said Mr. Bush.

He also wants to change the way Americans pay for health insurance by having a standard tax deduction for those costs, which he says will make it easier on people who buy insurance on their own instead of through their employer.