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Iraq Making 'Excellent Progress' Toward New Government, Bush Says - 2004-03-06

President Bush says Iraqis are making excellent progress toward a new government, despite this week's failure to sign a new interim constitution. The president's presumptive Democratic opponent in this year's election says Mr. Bush is not adequately protecting U.S. troops in Iraq.

President Bush says members of Iraq's Governing Council are having a spirited debate about the future of their country.

That debate has led to problems over a new interim constitution, which was to have been signed at a ceremony on Friday. Five Shi'ite members refused to sign because of language they believe gives too much power to ethnic Kurds.

In his weekly radio address, President Bush said new laws will take effect in Iraq, and when they do, people there will be protected by a written bill of rights for the first time in decades.

"Under this law, all Iraqis will be treated equally. No religious or ethnic groups will be favored, and none will suffer discrimination at the hands of the state," the president said. "The law will protect the rights of free speech and peaceful assembly, the right to organize political parties, the right to vote in fair elections, and the right to worship according to one's own conscience. The law also will guarantee the right to a speedy, fair and open trial. No Iraqi will ever again have to fear the midnight knock of the secret police."

Members of Iraq's Governing Council say their current plan is to reconvene Monday to try to finalize outstanding issues, and sign the interim constitution.

The signing ceremony was originally to have been held Wednesday, but was pushed back to Friday after 170 people were killed in suicide bombings at Shi'ite sites in Baghdad and Karbala.

President Bush said that violence will not reverse progress toward freedom in Iraq.

"Fighting alongside the people of Iraq, we will defeat the terrorists who seek to plunge Iraq into chaos and violence, and we will stand with the people of Iraq for as long as necessary to build a stable, peaceful and successful democracy," Mr. Bush said.

In the Democratic radio address, the party's likely presidential candidate, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, criticized Mr. Bush for not sufficiently protecting U.S. troops in Iraq, saying families should be reimbursed for buying body armor to send to U.S. soldiers there.

"Families should be sending pictures and care packages to Iraq - and the Department of Defense should be sending the body armor," senator Kerry said.

Senator Kerry referred to testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday by Army Secretary Les Brownlee, who said U.S. forces were not prepared for the present conflict in Iraq.

"If I am president, I will be prepared to use military force to protect our security, our people and our vital interests. But I will never send our troops into harm's way, without enough firepower and support," he said.

Senator Kerry called on Mr. Bush to support a bill he has introduced in the Senate to reimburse families for buying body armor for U.S. troops in Iraq. That war and the health of the U.S. economy are among the biggest issues in this year's election campaign.