In radio address, Bush claims good progress in Iraq war
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush painted a rosy picture of the situation in
Iraq, claiming significant progress Saturday in the U.S. militaryï¿½s battle in an insurgent stronghold.
In his weekly radio address, Bush praised the assault on Fallujah, west of Baghdad. About 80 percent of the city was said to be under U.S. control, with insurgents pushed into a narrow corner. But the battle has claimed at least 24 American lives and wounded about 170 U.S. troops, and violence has now spread to other Sunni Muslim areas of Iraq.
The death toll includes two Marines killed by a homemade bomb Saturday southeast of Fallujah.
The American forces launched a major attack against insurgent holdouts in southern Fallujah, hoping to finish off resistance in the city. An Iraqi official estimated that about 1,000 insurgents had been killed so far in the weeklong offensive.
At the same time, a U.S. infantry battalion was diverted from Fallujah to the northern city of Mosul, where the regional governor said ï¿½the betrayal of some police membersï¿½ had spawned an armed uprising in recent days. The fighting in Mosul has killed at least 10 Iraqi National Guards and one American soldier, the U.S. military said.
ï¿½Our 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,ï¿½ Bush said in his broadcast.
He said ï¿½support continues to growï¿½ internationally for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, even though the multinational force will see some reductions in the coming months.
While the largest members of Bushï¿½s ï¿½coalition of the willingï¿½
Britain with 8,500 troops and Italy with 3,000 -- are standing firm, Hungary says it will not keep its 300 troops there beyond March 31, the Czech Republic plans to pull out its soldiers by the end of February, and Dutch forces will leave soon afterward. Bulgaria says it may slightly reduce its contingent of 480 infantry soldiers next year. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania all plan to stay through June. Japan is feeling pressure to withdraw and Spain pulled out its 1,300 troops earlier this year.
Denmark, meanwhile, says its 501 troops in the southern Iraqi city of Basra will stay as long as needed, and Romania is considering bolstering its 730-member force for the elections. Georgia is also boosting its troop deployment from 159 to 850.
The president also hailed the effort to train and equip Iraqi personnel to take over security for their country. He said nearly 115,000 Iraqi soldiers, police officers and other security personnel are now on duty and that 200,000 will be in place by the end of the year.
ï¿½Ultimately, Iraq must be able to defend itself, and Iraqi security forces are taking increasing responsibility for their countryï¿½s security,ï¿½ Bush said.
Increasing the ranks of U.S.-trained Iraqi troops is important for a number of reasons. Chiefly, getting that number up increases the likelihood of the Pentagon being able to reduce the number of American troops in Iraq after the elections in January.
There are about 142,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, up several thousand from a few weeks ago.
Some doubts have been raised about the reliability of Iraqi security forces. For instance, the General Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, said recently that many Iraqis have been insufficiently trained and equipped. In some cases, the only ï¿½trainingï¿½ required of new policemen was that they wear a uniform, the report found. And only a fraction of the total number are actual troops.
Also Saturday, the president went on a 90-minute bicycle ride at a Secret Service training facility in Beltsville, Md., just outside Washington. Bush spent Friday evening at the home of Clay Johnson, a college friend and administration official who has a hand in shaping Bushï¿½s second-term Cabinet.