Bush: U.S. forces 'taking back' Falluja
(CNN) -- President Bush said Saturday the current U.S.-led Falluja offensive is making strides toward "taking back the city," but warned that as January elections approach, insurgent "violence could escalate" in Iraq.
Bush, devoting his weekly radio address to the battle for Falluja and the war in Iraq, said American and Iraqi troops "are on the offensive against the killers who have been using Falluja as a base of operations for terrorist attacks, and who have held the local population in the grip of fear."
"Our forces have made significant progress in the last several days. They are taking back the city, clearing mosques of weapons and explosives stockpiled by insurgents, and restoring order for law-abiding citizens," the president said.
The latest battle for Falluja, dubbed Operation New Dawn, began on Sunday. On Friday, a top Marine said troops battling hard-core fighters had gained a lot of ground and now control more than 80 percent of the city.
Bush noted that the ruthlessness of the insurgency has become clear during the operation.
"Iraqi troops have discovered new evidence of the enemy's brutality. An Iraqi general has described hostage slaughterhouses, where terrorists have killed innocent victims and proudly recorded their barbaric crimes. "
The president touted the "increasing responsibility" Iraqi security forces are taking in the country and spoke proudly of the growing indigenous force of the new Iraqi government.
"Ultimately, Iraq must be able to defend itself, and Iraqi security forces are taking increasing responsibility for their country's security. As we see in Falluja, and as we saw in Najaf and elsewhere, Iraqi security forces are standing and fighting and risking their lives for the future of their nation."
Bush said "brave Iraqis" are volunteering to serve despite the dangers of terrorism.
"Today, nearly 115,000 trained and equipped Iraqi soldiers, police officers and other security personnel are serving their country," the president said. "The Iraqi government is on track to meet its goal of fielding more than 200,000 security personnel by the end of next year."
As for the scheduled January elections for a transitional national assembly, Bush said the process is moving forward "even in the face of threats and intimidation."
The Iraqi people, like the people of Afghanistan before them, are embracing a democratic future, even in the face of threats and intimidation.
"The Iraqi people, like the people of Afghanistan before them, are embracing a democratic future, even in the face of threats and intimidation." he said. "Throughout the country, Iraqi men and women are registering to vote, political parties are forming, candidates for office are stepping forward."
The president stressed the importance of and noted the growth of international backing for the elections.
"Military forces from some 30 nations are working alongside Iraqi forces, helping to establish stability and security," said Bush. "A U.N. team is providing critical technical support to Iraq's independent electoral commission. Other diplomatic personnel are helping the Iraqi people prepare for those elections, to be held on schedule in January."
The president-said that as the elections approach, "the desperation of the killers will grow, and the violence could escalate."
However, he said, "The success of democracy in Iraq would be a crushing blow to the forces of terror, and the terrorists know it. The defeat of terror in Iraq will set that nation on a course to lasting freedom, and will give hope to millions, and the Iraqi people know it."