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Bush: No Iraq pullout without victory

Democratic senator urges president to give 'unvarnished' picture

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The president was in Colorado to help raise money for Rep. Marilyn Musgrave.

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DENVER, Colorado (CNN) -- The White House held out the prospect Tuesday that U.S. troop levels in Iraq could be reduced soon, but President Bush insisted he would not withdraw U.S. forces "without having achieved victory."

Bush is scheduled to make a Wednesday address that will launch a new series of speeches aimed at bolstering public support for the increasingly unpopular conflict.

On Tuesday, during a visit to the U.S.-Mexican border, he said any decisions he makes will be based on the recommendations of top U.S. commanders. (Watch: Bush effort to reassert control -- 2:15)

"If they tell me we need more troops, we'll provide more troops," he said. "If they tell me we've got a sufficient level of troops, that'll be the level of troops.

"If they tell me that the Iraqis are ready to take more and more responsibility and that we'll be able to bring some Americans home, I will do that."

But he said he would not let the U.S. troops killed in Iraq "die in vain" by withdrawing before a stable, democratic Iraq emerges.

"That's what's important for the American people to understand -- that, one, we are not going to cut and run; two, we'll achieve our objective; and three, the president is going to listen to those who are on the ground who can make the best assessment," Bush said.

About 159,000 American troops are in Iraq, up from about 138,000 in the summer, as the country prepares for its third round of voting this year.

Iraqis are set to select a permanent National Assembly December 15, after choosing a transitional parliament in January and approving a constitution in October.

The Pentagon has said that the level of troops is likely to go back down to the summer's level after the election.

The United States invaded Iraq in March 2003 on the contention that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was trying to obtain nuclear weapons and had concealed chemical and biological weapons stockpiles from U.N. weapons inspectors.

No such weapons were found once Hussein was toppled, and American troops have been battling a persistent insurgency since his government collapsed in April 2003.

The Bush administration now says U.S. troops must help stabilize Iraq's fledgling government and prevent the country from becoming a haven for Islamic militants linked to the al Qaeda terrorist network.

The U.S. death toll reached 2,110 Tuesday when a roadside bomb killed two U.S. soldiers north of Baghdad, and support for the conflict has dropped sharply in recent months. (Full story)

Only 35 percent of those surveyed in a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll taken earlier this month said they approved of Bush's handling of the conflict, and 54 percent said the invasion had been a mistake. (Full story)

From El Paso, Texas, Bush flew to Denver for a Republican fundraiser Tuesday.

A crowd of anti-war demonstrators met him after he landed, waving signs urging Bush's impeachment and a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Some waved their middle fingers at reporters traveling with the president.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Bush would outline "real progress" in the training of Iraqi security forces during his Wednesday speech at the U.S. Naval Academy -- the latest in a series of speeches this year meant to shore up public opinion.

In 2006, McClellan said, "the expectation is that conditions will be changing on the ground -- we've been making real progress with the training of Iraqi security forces -- and that conditions will permit us to be able to reduce our presence."

McClellan said the the White House will release a "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq," which he called an unclassified version of the plan the Bush administration has been following.

Reed: Close 'credibility gap'

Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, told reporters Tuesday Bush has to close a "growing credibility gap" by offering a detailed explanation of what remains to be done in Iraq, not just what has been accomplished so far.

"It's easy to sloganize and talk about 'Everything's going well,'" said Reed, a member of the Armed Services Committee, in comments to reporters ahead of Bush's speech Wednesday.

"But I think those speeches over the last two years have left a big gap between the American public -- what they hear from the president and what they see every day on television and read in the newspapers -- and that gap has to close," he said. "This has got to be unvarnished."

In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon that Bush will outline "in some detail" the U.S. plan to hand over increased control of the country to Iraqi authorities.

He said Iraqi troops are doing "a darn good job" but have to assume more responsibilities from Americans.

"They have to do it for themselves," Rumsfeld said. "There isn't an Iraqi that comes into this country and visits with me that doesn't say that. They know that. They know that they're the ones that are going to have to grab that country, and it's time."

Reed said Iraqi troops have become more technically and tactically adept, but questions remain about their makeup and loyalty to the elected government.

"If you've got competent units but they're basically militias in national uniforms, and you're uncertain of whose orders they're taking, that's not the security force you want," he said.

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