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Inside Politics

Bush: 'Difficult days' won't halt Iraq's progress

Speech was first of six before June 30 handover

From left, President Bush, his Chief of Staff Andrew Card, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and political adviser Karl Rove shake hands at the War College.
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CNN's John King breaks down President Bush's Iraq policy speech.

The president lays out a plan for the transition of power.

Bush says freedom in Iraq will bring hope to the Middle East.
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CARLISLE BARRACKS, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- President Bush on Monday night warned Americans of "difficult days ahead" in Iraq that may "sometimes appear chaotic," but he promised "no power of the enemy will stop Iraq's progress."

In a speech at the U.S. Army War College, Bush also extended an olive branch to world leaders who have opposed his policy in Iraq, vowing to seek more international involvement in providing security and rebuilding Iraq after the June 30 handover of power.

"Despite past disagreements, most nations have indicated strong support for the success of a free Iraq, and I am confident they will share in the responsibility of assuring that success," he said.

The speech came the same day U.S. diplomats circulated the text of a proposed United Nations Security Council resolution that would put an international stamp on the interim government and give a one-year mandate to a multinational peacekeeping force. (Today in Iraq: Car bomb explodes in Baghdad)

"America's task in Iraq is not only to defeat an enemy, it is to give strength to a friend -- a free, representative government that serves its people and fights on their behalf," Bush said.

Bush outlined five broad steps to restore Iraqi sovereignty and get the country back on its feet:

  • Handing over authority to a sovereign Iraqi government.
  • Establishing security.
  • Continuing to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure.
  • Encouraging more international support.
  • Moving toward a national election in Iraq that "will bring forward new leaders empowered by the Iraqi people."
  • The 31-minute speech at Carlisle Barracks, which is home to the war college, was the first of six presidential addresses on Iraq in the weeks before the handover, the White House said.

    Bush has tried to bolster U.S. resolve despite increasing skepticism about his policies in Iraq.

    Recent polls suggest that support for the war -- and for Bush's re-election -- have sagged amid ongoing combat deaths and the controversy over the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by their U.S. captors at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. (Poll: Bush approval still near his record low)

    Bush said the United States would build a modern maximum security prison to replace Abu Ghraib -- and that it would be demolished if the new Iraqi government agreed.

    Amid calls by some critics for an immediate pullout of U.S. troops, Bush was candid.

    "Our commanders had estimated that a troop level below 115,000 would be sufficient at this point in the conflict," Bush said. "Given the recent increase in violence, we will maintain our troop level at the current 138,000 as long as necessary."

    If commanders need more troops, Bush said, "I will send them."

    Bush pledged to support a slate of officials selected by special U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi that will be announced this week and called the handover an "essential commitment."

    "Iraqis are proud people who resent foreign control of their affairs, just as we would," Bush said. "By keeping our promise on June 30, the coalition will demonstrate that we have no interest in occupation."

    The interim government, which will hold power until elections scheduled for January, will include a president, two vice presidents, a prime minister and 26 Cabinet ministers running government departments.

    "A representative government that protects basic rights, elected by Iraqis, is the best defense against the return of tyranny, and that election is coming," Bush said.

    But the president warned that the "brutal, calculating" campaign of violence that Iraq has experienced in recent months is likely to continue before and after the handover.

    "History is moving, and it will tend toward hope or tend toward tragedy. Our terrorist enemies have a vision that guides and explains all their varied acts of murder," Bush said.

    "Our actions, too, are guided by a vision. We believe that freedom can advance and change lives in the greater Middle East.

    "These two visions have now met in Iraq, and are contending for the future of that country," Bush said. "We will persevere and defeat this enemy, and hold this hard-won ground for the realm of liberty."

    Reacting to Bush's speech, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumptive Democratic nominee, said most of the principles Bush laid out were not new.

    "What's most important now is to turn these words into action by offering presidential leadership to the nation and to the world," Kerry said in a statement.

    "That's going to require the president to genuinely reach out to our allies so the United States doesn't have to continue to go it alone."

    Kerry supported the congressional resolution authorizing Bush to take military action in Iraq, but he has been critical of the conduct of the war, particularly the administration's inability to win the support of traditional U.S. allies.

    Madeleine Albright, who was secretary of state during the Clinton administration, said she was skeptical of Bush's strategy. (CNN Access)

    "First of all, there's still no guarantee the Iraqi people will accept" the interim government, Albright said on CNN's "Paula Zahn Now." Another question, she said, was whether security would be adequate to ensure the January elections take place.

    Albright, who also served as U.S. ambassador to United Nations under President Clinton, said she was glad Bush "now realized the importance of the U.N."

    Sen. Joe Lieberman said Bush "did what he has to do in this speech and in the ones that will follow in the next weeks, which is to shore up American support, to remind the American people why we must win this battle against the terrorists."

    "I hope that all of us in both parties who have said that we have to stay in Iraq and finish the job in pursuit of our own values and of our own security will pull together and make it happen and not be part of a chorus of doubters that will undermine the support of the American people more," said Lieberman, a Democrat.

    "In my opinion, this is the test of our generation. And if we don't win it in Iraq, we're going to face it much closer to home in the years ahead." (CNN Access)

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