President Bush says security in Iraq is improving, in part because of his decision to send 30,000 troop reinforcements last year. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, opposition Democrats say the cost of the war is hurting Americans at home.

In the 15 months since he ordered more U.S. troops to Iraq, President Bush said there has been a major strategic shift, with many mainstream Sunnis and Shi'ites now actively confronting extremists.

"Fifteen months ago, al-Qaida was using bases in Iraq to kill our troops and terrorize Iraqis," he said.  "Today, we have put al-Qaida on the defensive in Iraq, and now we are working to deliver a crippling blow. Fifteen months ago, Americans were worried about the prospect of failure in Iraq. Today, thanks to the surge, we've revived the prospect of success in Iraq."

In his weekly radio address, Mr. Bush said sectarian violence, civilian deaths, and military deaths are down since he sent 30,000 reinforcements to Iraq last year. He said security improvements have helped clear the way for political and economic progress.

However, violence has intensified in Iraq since Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered a crackdown on Shi'ite militias in Basra last month.

This past week, President Bush accepted the recommendation of the top U.S. commander in Iraq General David Petraeus and suspended the planned withdrawal of U.S. troops after July, while the security situation is re-assessed. 

Troops deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan after August 1 will have their tour of duty reduced from 15 months to 12 months.

The war in Iraq is deeply unpopular in the United States. A majority of Americans now believe toppling Saddam Hussein was a mistake. A public opinion poll by the Associated Press this past week showed nearly two-thirds of Americans disapprove of how President Bush is handling the war.

In the Democratic party's radio address, Kentucky Congressman John Yarmuth focused on the continuing cost of the war, which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says is as much as $9 billion a month.

"The American people know the tax dollars they send to Iraq could be put to good use here at home," he said.  "Across America our roads and bridges are crumbling and are in desperate need of repair, yet taxpayer dollars are being squandered on an Iraqi government that is riddled with waste, fraud, and corruption."

Yarmuth says Iraq's government is enjoying a multi-billion dollar surplus while Americans pay the salaries of Iraqi security forces.

President Bush this past week said there is no doubt the cost of the war is great, but he said it is a modest fraction of the nation's wealth and is a burden worth bearing because Iraq is a focal point for what he called the greatest threats to America, al-Qaida and Iran.