Bush defends Iraq war policy

United States President George Bush, facing growing doubts about his war strategy, said on Wednesday that Iraqi troops are increasingly taking the lead in battle, but that “this will take time and patience”.

In a speech defending his policy, Bush said Iraqi forces have not always performed well in combat, but have made substantial progress in the past year.

“As the Iraqi forces grow more capable, they are increasingly taking the lead in the fight against the terrorists,” the president told a supportive audience at the US Naval Academy. “Our goal is to train enough Iraqi forces so they can carry the fight against the terrorists.”

Bush’s speech did not break new ground or present a new strategy.
Instead, it was intended to bring together in one place the administration’s arguments for the war and explain its strategy on a military, economic and political track.

The president’s address was accompanied by the release of a 35-page White House document titled National Strategy for Victory in Iraq.

“Americans should have a clear understanding of this strategy,” Bush said. He said the document is an unclassified version of the strategy that is being pursued in Iraq.

Bush said Iraqis are stepping forward to provide security for their embattled country, torn by suicide bombings, kidnappings and other violence.

“Iraqi forces have made real progress,” the president said. “We will stay as long as necessary to complete the mission. If our military leaders there tell us we need more troops, I will send them.”

He said that more than 120 army and police combat battalions are ready to fight on their own, while 80 other Iraqi battalions are fighting side by side with coalition forces.

“They’re helping to turn the tide in the struggle in freedom’s favour,” the president said.

Even before Bush finished speaking, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid issued a statement claiming that Bush “recycled his tired rhetoric of ‘stay the course’ and once again missed an opportunity to lay out a real strategy for success in Iraq that will bring our troops safely home”.

The senator charged that Bush failed to meet a call by the Senate to tell Americans the administration’s strategy for success in Iraq.—Sapa-AP