President Bush says Iraqi security forces fighting in Basra will need time to overcome Shiite militias, but he is confident the government in Baghdad will prevail. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports Mr. Bush says the Iraqi offensive is a direct result of security gains made be a surge of U.S. troops.
President Bush says the fighting in Basra shows the progress Iraqi security forces have made since he sent more than 30,000 U.S. reinforcements to Iraq one year ago.
"Iraqi security forces are waging a tough battle against militia fighters and criminals in Basra, many of whom have received arms and training and funding from Iran," the president said. "Prime Minister Maliki's bold decision - and it was a bold decision - to go after the illegal groups in Basra shows his leadership and his commitment to enforce the law in an even-handed manner."
Mr. Bush spoke to Air Force personnel on a base in the Midwest state of Ohio. He said Iraqi officials planned the operation in Basra, deployed extra forces, and are leading the fighting, with Prime Minister Maliki in the southern oil city himself overseeing the fight.
President Bush said it shows the Iraqi people that their government is committed to protecting them.
"This operation is going to take some time to complete, and the enemy will try to fill the TV screens with violence. But the ultimate result will be this: Terrorists and extremists in Iraq will know they have no place in a free and democratic society," he said.
The president again called on Iran and Syria to stop supporting violence and terrorism in Iraq.
This was the second in a series of speeches Mr. Bush is giving ahead of next month's progress report on Iraq by U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and the top U.S. commander there, General David Petraeus.
Petraeus has indicated that once troop levels in Iraq return to pre-surge levels of about 140,000 by July, he would like a pause in the troop drawdown to evaluate the security situation.
President Bush says he will carefully consider the advice of commanders on the ground before deciding on further troop withdrawals.
"As I consider the way forward, I will always remember that the progress in Iraq is real, it is substantive, but it is reversible," Mr. Bush said. "And so the principle behind my decision on our troop levels will be insuring that we succeed in Iraq."
The president criticized opposition Democrats, who have been calling for further troop withdrawals from Iraq so the military can focus on fighting terrorism elsewhere. Mr. Bush said that argument makes no sense.
The president again linked the war in Iraq with security in the United States, saying America's strategic interests lay in the convergence between what he called the twin threats of al-Qaida and Iran.