President Bush is holding a White House news conference to explain his plans for the future of U.S. operations in Iraq. You can hear that news conference live here on VOA at 00:30 UTC.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan says U.S. forces are facing a time of testing in Iraq, and President Bush believes it's a good time to give Americans a detailed update and a clear picture of where U.S. operations there are headed.

It will be the president's 12th news conference, but only the third in the evening, when more Americans are at home to watch. One of those earlier evening appearances came shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. The other was just before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Tuesday's news conference will be carried live by most of the major U.S. television networks. Mr. McClellan says that is an opportunity to reach as many people as possible, since, he says, unrest in Iraq is clearly on the minds of Americans.

It follows what the spokesman calls a tough week in Iraq, where U.S. Marines battled to retake control of Fallujah and fought supporters of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

President Bush will open the news conference with what is expected to be a 12-minute statement on Iraq, which Mr. McClellan says will discuss the violence in Fallujah and challenges to establishing a transitional government.

Mr. McClellan says there is a relatively small number of what he calls thugs, terrorists and remnants of the former regime, who are attempting "violent power play" to derail Iraq's transition to democracy and freedom.

Mr. McClellan says the country is at a critical moment with the approach of a June 30 deadline for handing over power.

The spokesman repeated the president's pledge to stick to that deadline, and said that, while there are always going to be problems on the road to democracy, the U.S.-led coalition is making important progress.

Mr. McClellan again linked the war in Iraq with the broader fight against international terrorism, saying freedom in Iraq will make America safer.

The president's likely Democratic challenger in this year's election, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, says the military alone cannot win the peace in Iraq.

Because of the way the White House has run the war, Senator Kerry says, the United States is bearing most of the costs and the risks in Iraq, with people there lashing out at the United States to express their frustration over what Mr. Kerry says the Bush administration has and has not done.

In a column published in Tuesday's Washington Post, Senator Kerry says Washington must attract more international troops to Iraq and make the United Nations a full partner in developing the country's transition to civilian rule.

Mr. McClellan says President Bush wants the U.N. to play a vital role in Iraq's transition. In addition to Iraq, the president is likely to face questions over the U.S. economy and what his administration did to address terrorist threats before the attacks of September 11, 2001.