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Bush: US Must Help Iraq Defeat Terrorists

President Bush says Americans have reached a moment in the Iraq war that will decide the direction of the country and reveal the character of its people.

Speaking from the Oval Office in the White House on national television, Mr. Bush says conditions in Iraq are improving because the surge strategy of putting more U.S. forces in the country is working. The president says because of successes in meeting objectives, some U.S. troops can begin coming home.

Mr. Bush said U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General David Petraeus told Congress this week that while the challenge in Iraq is formidable, conditions are improving.

President Bush says 4,000 U.S. Marines sent to Iraq's al-Anbar province earlier this year as part of a troop surge helped drive al-Qaida terrorists from the capital of Ramadi.

President Bush says he has accepted General David Petraeus' recommendations on troop levels. He says 5,700 out of the American force of 168,000 troops in Iraq will return home by the end of December.

Mr. Bush said he also agrees with General Petraeus's assessment that by July, the number of combat brigades will drop from 20 to 15.

Since January, Mr. Bush says, U.S. and Iraq forces have been killing or capturing an average of more than 15-hundred enemy fighters per month.

The president says recent official U.S. assessments conclude the Iraqi army is becoming more capable, but the Iraqi National Police still require a great deal of work.

Mr. Bush says he has directed General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker to deliver another assessment of the situation in Iraq in March. The president says at that time, he will provide a fresh assessment of the troop levels needed to meet national security objectives.

In his address to the nation Thursday, Mr. Bush said the situation in Ramadi provides a good example of how the U.S. strategy in Iraq is working. But he said the "enemy" remains active and deadly in other parts of the province.

Mr. Bush said the Iraqi government has also been successful in passing a budget and sharing oil revenues with local provinces. But he said Iraqi leaders must work harder to achieve reconciliation, calling it an "enormous undertaking."

President Bush says the United States can now begin bringing home some of its troops stationed in Iraq because of success in meeting security objectives there.

In an address to the nation Thursday, Mr. Bush said the more the United States succeeds, the more troops it can bring home from Iraq. He said his decisions on reducing troop levels are part of a policy called "Return on Success."

President Bush says his vision for success in Iraq is critical to the security of the United States, and will deny al-Qaida a safe haven. He says a free Iraq will also counter what he called "the destructive ambitions of Iran."

Mr. Bush said if the United States were to be driven out of Iraq, extremists of all strains would be emboldened and al-Qaida could gain new recruits and new sanctuaries. He also said Iran would benefit from what he called "chaos" and be encouraged in efforts to gain nuclear weapons and dominate the region.

The president says securing the Iraqi population is the foundation for all other progress. In areas that have been cleared by military forces, he says, U.S. diplomatic and civilian resources are now trying to make improvements in daily life.

In its response to the president, the opposition Democratic Party says Mr. Bush has failed to provide either a plan to successfully end the war in Iraq or a convincing rationale to continue it.

President Bush says all Americans, regardless of their political affiliation, should be able to agree that the United States has a vital interest in providing hope in the Middle East.

He says Americans should agree on what he calls their vital interests: defeating al-Qaida, countering Iran, helping the Afghan government, working for peace in Israel and strengthening the U.S. military to prevail against extremists.

The president appealed to Congress to come together and support his and General David Petraeus's recommendations about troop levels in Iraq, and to continue funding the military effort.

Mr. Bush called on Iraqis to demand their leaders make the tough choices needed for achieving national reconciliation. He urged them to have confidence that America will not abandon them.

Mr. Bush said Iraq's neighbors who seek peace should use their economic and diplomatic leverage to strengthen the central Iraqi government.

Singling out Iran and Syria, the president said efforts by those trying to undermine the Iraqi government must end.

Mr. Bush encouraged all nations to help revitalize Iraq's economy and to support an expanded mission of the United Nations in the country.

Mr. Bush says Iraq's government has been successful in passing a budget and sharing oil revenues with local provinces. But he says Baghdad's leaders must work harder to achieve reconciliation and meet legislative benchmarks.

In testimony to the U.S. Congress this week, General Petraeus recommended the withdrawal of 30,000 U.S. troops from Iraq by mid-2008, leaving about 130,000 Americans stationed there.

Administration officials say Petraeus will brief Congress on Iraq again in March to gauge what troop strength is necessary for continued success.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.