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Bush: 'We are winning the war'

Amid an uproar over secret eavesdropping, he says a pullout would hand Iraq to our enemies.

Associated Press
Published December 19, 2005


WASHINGTON - President Bush asserted Sunday night the United States is winning the war in Iraq and issued a plea to Americans divided by doubt: "Do not give in to despair and do not give up on this fight for freedom."

In a prime-time address, Bush acknowledged setbacks and sacrifice and cautioned there would be more violence and death in the months ahead. "Some look at the challenges in Iraq and conclude that the war is lost and not worth another dime or another day," he said.

Struggling to build confidence in his policy, the president held out hopes for withdrawing American forces as Iraqi troops gain strength and experience.

The president spoke from the Oval Office, where in March 2003, he announced the U.S.-led invasion. Nearly three years later, more than 2,150 U.S. troops have died, Bush's popularity has plummeted and about half of Americans think the war was a mistake. Yet a strong majority oppose an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces.

The address came on the heels of four major speeches in which Bush acknowledged setbacks and surprises in the war and took responsibility for ordering the invasion on the basis of inaccurate intelligence. The admissions were part of a White House effort to address complaints that Bush lacked a solid strategy for the war and has been oblivious to the violence that Americans see on television.

"I know that some of my decisions have led to terrible loss and not one of those decisions has been taken lightly," he said. "I know that this war is controversial, yet being your president requires doing what I believe is right and accepting the consequences."

Bush said last week's voting for parliament will not bring an end to the violence in Iraq, where he has estimated that 30,000 civilians have died. But he said Iraq's election, 6,000 miles away, "means that America has an ally of growing strength in the fight against terror."

His speech came amid an uproar in Congress over whether he exceeded his powers in conducting the war on terror with a secret eavesdropping program and on a day that Vice President Dick Cheney made a surprise visit to Baghdad and faced questions from U.S. soldiers about their mission.

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., hailed the speech as a positive effort by Bush, but said the ultimate solution in Iraq must include negotiations among the nation's three major factions: Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

"We need a political solution," Biden said on CNN.

Failing that, Biden warned, Iraq could wind up with a Shiite government.

Biden also said "all-out civil war" remains a possibility in Iraq.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., agreed that a political solution must be achieved within six months. Graham praised Bush for "being candid about mistakes in the past and making the case that we can't leave before the job is done."

Arguing against withdrawal, Bush said that "to retreat before victory would be an act of recklessness and dishonor and I will not allow."

As he has in the past three weeks, Bush acknowledged missteps and setbacks.

But, he said, "Not only can we win the war in Iraq - we are winning the war in Iraq."

The Pentagon hopes to be able to reduce U.S. troop levels as Iraqi security forces become more capable of defending their own country, but it is unclear when that point will be reached. The usual U.S. troop level this year of about 138,000 was strengthened to about 160,000 this fall out of concern for a potential rise in violence during voting in October and December.

"It is also important for every American to understand the consequences of pulling out of Iraq before our work is done," Bush said. "We would abandon our Iraqi friends and signal to the world that America cannot be trusted to keep its word. ... We would hand Iraq over to enemies who have pledged to attack us and the global terrorist movement would be emboldened and more dangerous than ever before."

--Information from Cox News Service was used in this report.

[Last modified December 19, 2005, 01:39:06]


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