Bush Claims Fresh Progress In Iraq

Tuesday, March 6th 2007, 9:05 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush said Tuesday his decision to send more troops to Baghdad is yielding ``gradual but important'' progress in Iraq. He portrayed himself as steadfast while Democrats squabble over strategy.

War-weary voters put Democrats in charge of Congress, but lawmakers have not decided how or whether to restrict Bush on Iraq through legislation. Bush seized on that divide and cautioned Democrats not to interfere with military missions.

``Other members of Congress seem to believe that we can have it all: that we can fight al-Qaida, pursue national reconciliation, initiate aggressive diplomacy and deter Iran's ambitions in Iraq _ all while withdrawing from Baghdad and reducing our force levels,'' Bush said in a speech to the American Legion.

``That sounds good in theory, but doing so at this moment would undermine everything our troops have worked for. There are no shortcuts in Iraq,'' the president said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Democrats are determined to lead a new direction on Iraq policy. That includes getting troops home and shifting the U.S. mission from combat to training, troop protection and counterterrorism.

``The war in Iraq is not making our country safer, our military stronger or the region more stable,'' Pelosi said Tuesday. ``In fact, the war in Iraq is the greatest ethical challenge facing our nation.''

The war is deeply unpopular. The White House also has been rocked by revelations of shoddy care for wounded soldiers at a premier Army hospital in Washington, angering lawmakers in both parties.

Bush said Democrats have a right to express their opinions. Then he methodically criticized several of their ideas: adding unrelated items to a war spending bill; narrowing the mission in Iraq; or placing conditions on money for the war.

The House has approved a symbolic measure disapproving of Bush's troop buildup. The proposal has stalled in the Senate. The White House is preparing for what it sees as the real political fight _ the upcoming vote on a $100 billion war spending bill.

Bush said Congress should approve the war money without strings or delay. Military commanders, he said, should have ``the flexibility to carry out their missions without undue interference from politicians in Washington.''

Meanwhile, Bush said a security crackdown in Baghdad is showing ``encouraging signs.'' The White House sees stability in the Iraqi capital as the centerpiece of a political, military and diplomatic plan to winning the war.

``Iraqi and U.S. forces are making gradual but important progress almost every day,'' Bush said. ``We will remain steadfast until our objectives are achieved.''

Iraq's government has kept its pledge to deploy three additional Iraqi army brigades to Baghdad and has lifted restrictions that prevented coalition and Iraqi forces from going into certain areas, the president said.

Yet bursts of violence continue as insurgents move elsewhere.

Two suicide bombers blew themselves up Tuesday in a crowd of Shiite pilgrims streaming toward the holy city of Karbala. The blasts killed 93 people in one of several attacks targeting the faithful ahead of a weekend holiday.

The attack came a day after U.S. forces suffered their deadliest day in nearly a month _ nine American soldiers were killed in explosions north of Baghdad, the military said.

Bush announced in January he was sending an additional 21,500 U.S. troops to Iraq despite widespread opposition to the war and opposition to his plan in the Democratic-controlled Congress.

In the fight for public opinion, the White House has characterized Democrats as being against the troop increase without clearly articulating what they support.