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Bush warns of heavy fighting in Iraq this summer

Story Highlights

Democrats lose timetable battle; Bush warns of U.S., Iraqi casualties
Bush to develop further sanctions against Iran's nuclear program
House Democrat: Bush's policy unworthy of troops' sacrifice
U.S. attorney probe being drawn out for political reasons, Bush says

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As Congress was poised to approve money for U.S. forces in Iraq on Thursday, President Bush warned Americans to expect "heavy fighting" this summer during a critical time in his war strategy.

Answering reporters' questions at a White House news conference, Bush said the developments would occur once U.S. military reinforcements are in place in mid-June.

"We can expect more American and Iraqi casualties," Bush said. "We must provide our troops with the funds and resources they need to prevail." (Watch Bush explain why this summer will be "critical" with "heavy fighting" Video)

Congress was set to vote Thursday on a war spending bill without troop timetables that have delayed passage of the $120 billion measure for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The House is to vote this evening, with a Senate vote expected soon after.

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate decided Tuesday to remove troop timetables from the war spending bill after a long fight with the White House that included a rare presidential veto of an earlier version of the legislation.

Supporters of the timetables were unable to muster the two-thirds vote needed to override Bush's veto.

Rep. Jim Moran, D-Virginia, a member of the House Democratic leadership, criticized Bush on Thursday prior to the news conference.

"The Democratic leadership is allowing this bill to pass because unlike the president, they will not leave our troops unprotected in battle," Moran said on the House floor. "It is our troops and their families that are the only ones being asked to make any sacrifice in this war and this president's policy is unworthy of their sacrifice."

Wrangling over the bill has delayed key funding that critics said is threatening to hinder military operations.

Democratic leadership aides in Congress said benchmarks written in the bill would be tie accomplishments by the Iraqi government to U.S. money for reconstruction and would require Bush to present to Congress numerous reports before August.

Bush said his "new strategy is designed to help Iraq's leaders provide security for their people, and get control of their capital so they can move forward with reconciliation and reconstruction." The president explained that his plan "is designed to take advantage of new opportunities to partner with local tribes to go after al Qaeda in places like (the) Anbar (province), which has been the home base of al Qaeda in Iraq."

The aides said Democrats won't give up on a deadline for pulling troops out of Iraq, hoping to write language into defense appropriations and defense authorization bills over the summer.

Bush tied Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program to a question about U.S. reasons for invading Iraq and toppling Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

"It would have been a really dangerous world if you'd had the Iranians trying to develop a nuclear weapon and Saddam Hussein competing for a nuclear weapon," said Bush. "You can imagine what the mentality of the Middle East would have been like." (Read more about Iran and its claim Thursday that atomic work has peaked)

A report issued Wednesday by the United Nations' nuclear watchdog -- the International Atomic Energy Agency -- said Iran has not only ignored the call to halt its enrichment of nuclear materials but has also increased its activities.

Iran insists its nuclear program is meant for peaceful energy production. However, uranium enriched to a high degree can also be used for weapons grade material.

Bush accused Tehran of "constantly ignoring (the world's) demands" and called on allies to "strengthen our sanction regime."

"I just spoke to (U.S. Secretary of State) Condoleezza Rice, and we will work with our European partners to develop further sanctions," Bush said. "And, of course, I will discuss this issue with (Russian President) Vladimir Putin, as well as (Chinese) President Hu Jintao."

The president also criticized Iran for the recent arrest of four Americans with dual Iranian citizenship. (Read more about the arrests of U.S. citizens in Iran)

"We've made it very clear to the Iranian government that the detention of good, decent American souls who are there to, you know, be beneficial citizens is not acceptable behavior," Bush said.

Bush: Attorneys probe 'political theater'

Bush's news conference comes a day after former Justice Department official Monica Goodling testified that Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty was "not fully candid" about the 2006 firings of U.S. attorneys.

The Justice Department's "exhaustive investigation," Bush said, is being "dragged out for political reasons." Describing the probe as "grand political theater," Bush said "if there's wrongdoing, it will be taken care of."

On Wednesday, Goodling told a Capitol Hill committee about an "uncomfortable" conversation with Attorney General Gonzales about the shake-up. Bush has stood by Gonzales despite bipartisan calls for his ouster.

Goodling, a former Gonzales aide and the Justice Department's White House liaison, also acknowledged Wednesday that she screened job applicants based on political ties -- something she said she regretted. (Read more about Goodling's testimony)

Bush: Immigration bill will help millions

Bush also answered questions Thursday on the immigration proposal as lawmakers consider a compromise bill on the contentious issue.

"Those who are looking to find fault with this bill will always be able to find something," Bush said. "But if you're serious about securing our borders and bringing millions of illegal immigrants in our country out of the shadows, this bipartisan bill is the best opportunity to move forward."

The immigration bill would offer the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants now in the United States a path to citizenship, boost border controls and establish a guest worker program that would grant two-year residency for hundreds of thousands of people.

On Wednesday, senators voted to reduce the number of guest workers that would be allowed into the country from 400,000 to 200,000. (Read more about the Senate vote)

But some Democrats don't like the guest worker program because they think it drives down wages for American workers and creates a permanent underclass of immigrant workers.

Republicans generally favor a strong guest worker program because businesses say they need the labor, but the bill has drawn fire from some conservative critics, who blasted it as "amnesty" for undocumented workers. (Read more about the immigration legislation)

"This bill does not grant amnesty," Bush said. "Amnesty is forgiveness without a penalty. Instead, this bill requires workers here illegally to acknowledge that they broke the law, pay a fine, pass background checks, remain employed and maintain a clean record."

Bush said he knew taking on the nation's immigration challenges would be "explosive" and he said he wished he could "get it out of politics," to show that "we're a nation of immigrants."

To illustrate his point, Bush described a Coast Guard Academy graduate he met during a visit to the school on Wednesday. The ensign "talked about his migrant grandfather from Mexico," Bush said. "His grandfather wasn't born here. I don't know what job he did. I suspect it was probably manual labor. I don't know; I didn't ask him. But I do know he spoke with pride. I do know he represents the best about what immigration can mean for America."

Thursday's Rose Garden event is the president's 35th formal news conference. His previous official formal news conference was February 14 in the East Room. However, Bush did take questions after making a statement on April 3 about the war spending bill.

President Bush warned Thursday that violence in Iraq could worsen as U.S. reinforcements arrive this summer.


• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide


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