President Bush says he will address the nation in the coming days on the way forward in Iraq. On Monday, the top two U.S officials in Iraq, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, will go before Congressional committees and give a status report on the situation, an opportunity Democrats say should be used to finally change course in the war. From Washington, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.
President Bush left Australia Saturday in the middle of the Asia Pacific (APEC) summit to return to Washington ahead of Monday's Congressional testimony and a White House report on Iraq.
On Monday, the president made an unannounced visit to Iraq, skipping Baghdad and going to the western al-Anbar province. Until recently, the province was a stronghold of Sunni Arab insurgents and al-Qaida in Iraq, but tribal sheikhs have joined with Iraqi and coalition forces in fighting their influence. In his weekly radio address Saturday, President Bush said he visited the province to see the changes for himself.
"The people of Anbar have seen that standing up to the terrorists and extremists leads to a better life. And Anbar has shown that improving security is the first step toward achieving economic progress and political reconciliation," he said.
But the deaths of four U.S. Marines in Anbar two days ago are a reminder that progress has not come easily or without cost.
During his six-hour visit, the president met with troops and top leaders of the U.S. military and the Iraqi government. President Bush said he also received a briefing from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker.
"In the next few days, they will come to Washington to give Congress their assessment of conditions on the ground," he said. "I urge the members of Congress to listen to these two well-respected professionals - before jumping to any conclusions."
The president added that he would address the American people next week to discuss the changes his strategy has brought to Iraq, and to lay out his plan for future involvement there. He did not indicate if that meant the withdrawal of any American troops, something Democrats have repeatedly pushed for.
Tuesday will mark the sixth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States. Senate Majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada said in the Democratic party response that instead of destroying al-Qaida, President Bush has led the American people into an ill-planned war in Iraq.
"And today the results of his choice could not be clearer," said Reid."More than 170,000 brave Americans are mired in a civil war in faraway Iraq; Osama bin Laden remains on the loose making videos, mocking America, planning attacks. Al-Qaida and its leadership is resurgent."
Senator Reid says General Petraeus' report this week to Congress is an opportunity to finally change course in Iraq.
"The release of the Bush-Petraeus report this week is yet another chance to evaluate these shortcomings and finally change course," he said. "We must responsibly end the war and return our focus where it belongs - to beating al-Qaida and fighting a real, effective war on terrorism."
He said if President Bush refuses to do so, it would be up to the Democratic-led Congress to show him the way.