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Bush tells radio audience he sees progress in the Iraq war effort
WASHINGTON -- President Bush said Saturday he is encouraged by the increasing size and capability of the Iraqi security forces, touting progress on a key measure for when U.S. troops can come home.
The upbeat remarks in Bush's weekly radio address came two days after the top commander in Iraq said only one Iraqi battalion is ready to fight without U.S. support.
"All Americans can have confidence in the military commanders who are leading the effort in Iraq, and in the troops under their command," Bush said. "They have made important gains in recent weeks and months; they are adapting our strategy to meet the needs on the ground; and they're helping us to bring victory in the war on terror."
The sunny presentation of the situation in Iraq is part of a renewed push by the administration to win support for the war effort from an increasingly reluctant American public.
It conflicts with the news from Iraq and some assessments from top commanders.
Bush said more than 100 Iraqi battalions are operating throughout the country. "Our commanders report that the Iraqi forces are serving with increasing effectiveness," he told radio listeners.
Buffeted by criticism over his administration's response to Hurricane Katrina, Bush sought this week to shift his public focus back to Iraq and to the anti-terror fight.
He built a reputation for commanding leadership and won re-election in part on those two issues, but polls indicate the public is becoming more troubled by the daily U.S. casualties in Iraq and the uncertain prospects for victory.
At least 200 people have been killed in the past five days, including 13 U.S. service members, and the number of American troops killed in Iraq since the start of the war is approaching 2,000.
A Rose Garden speech earlier this week devoted to Iraq was the president's first outside of those on Supreme Court developments since Katrina hit nearly five weeks ago in which he did not mention the storm.
The remarks, in which he claimed a "plan to win" in Iraq, foreshadowed another speech Bush is scheduled to give next Thursday, as well as others being delivered in coming days by Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
In his radio remarks, Bush did warn of an upsurge in violence before Iraqis vote Oct. 15 on a new constitution. If approved, it would form the basis for elections in December of a permanent Iraqi government.
"As Iraqis take these next steps on the path to freedom and democracy, the terrorists will do everything they can to stop this progress and try to break our will," the president said. "They will fail."
Other encouraging signs Bush cited were the recent killing of Abdullah Abu Azza, al-Qaida's No. 2 leader in Iraq, and the closing of a main route for foreign terrorists coming into Iraq from Syria.
Gen. John Abizaid, commander, U.S. Central Command, earlier cited several encouraging signs in Iraq. He said the main battles against the insurgency had shifted to western Iraq, "which is a good sign, a good indicator that Iraqi and U.S. forces are having an effect elsewhere." Also, he said, infiltration of foreign fighters across the Syrian border "remains a concern, but it's down."
"Our strategy in Iraq is clear," Bush said. "We're hunting down deadly terrorist leaders. We're conducting aggressive counterterrorism operations in the areas where the terrorists are concentrated.
"We are constantly adapting our tactics to the changing tactics of the terrorists, and we're training more Iraqi forces to assume increasing responsibility for their country's security."