President Bush says the so-called "surge" strategy in Iraq is working. The president gave this assessment of the situation in Iraq Saturday in Kuwait. It is one of several stops on a tour of the Middle East to build support for his administration's efforts to stabilize Iraq and to contain Iran's growing influence in the region. VOA correspondent Challiss McDonough has more from our Middle East bureau in Cairo.
President Bush said the United States' surge in Iraq has sharply reduced violence there and should allow the military to finish withdrawing 20,000 troops on schedule by the middle of the year.
The president spoke to reporters after meeting with his top military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker.
"Iraq is now a different place from one year ago. Much hard work remains, but levels of violence are significantly reduced. Hope is returning to Baghdad, and hope is returning to towns and villages throughout the country. Iraqis who fled the violence are beginning to return and rebuild their lives," he said.
The president said he has made no decision on withdrawing more troops from Iraq. He said that will depend on recommendations by General Petraeus, who is due to report to Congress on that issue in March. A day earlier, the president told the NBC television network that U.S. troops could remain in Iraq for at least a decade.
Mr. Bush also called on Syria to cut what he called "the flow of terrorists" into Iraq. He accused Iran of supporting militias and extremist groups in Iraq, and urged it to stop.
"Iranian agents are in our custody, and we are learning more about how Iran has supported extremist groups with training and lethal aid," he said.
Iran and Syria have both denied fueling violence in Iraq, and have complained that the chaos there risks destabilizing both of their countries.
Later, the president addressed a crowd of some 1,500 American troops at a U.S. military base in Kuwait.
"The history will say, it was when you were called upon, you served, and the service you rendered was absolutely necessary to defeat an enemy overseas so we do not have to face them here at home," he said.
Mr. Bush said the troops are part of what he called "an ideological struggle" against "cold-blooded murderers" with a "hateful vision of a future." He said the best way to defeat an ideology of hate is with an ideology of hope, based on liberty.
After meeting with the troops, the president attended a roundtable discussion with Kuwaiti women activists working for women's rights and democracy.
Although Kuwait is a close U.S. ally, there is deep anxiety there about some U.S. policies. With a large Shi'ite population and a large U.S. troop presence, Kuwait is worried about the possibility of a U.S. military strike on Iran. The emirate has said it will not allow its territory to be used in such an attack. It is also concerned about a spillover of violence from neighboring Iraq.
After Kuwait, the president continued to Bahrain, headquarters of the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet. He will later visit the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt before returning to Washington next week.