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(photo credit: AP)
President George W. Bush declared Sunday night that Iraq's elections signal the birth of democracy in the Middle East, arguing against a US troop pullout while acknowledging the doubts of some "that the war is lost and not worth another dime or another day."
Bush said last week's voting for parliament will not bring an end to the violence in Iraq, where he has estimated that 30,000 civilians and more than 2,100 Americans have died. But he said Iraq's election "means that America has an ally of growing strength in the fight against terror."
The president was to speak to the nation in his first address from the Oval Office since he announced the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Excerpts of his remarks were released in advance.
His speech came amid an uproar in Congress over whether he exceeded his powers in conducting the war on terror with a secret eavesdropping program and on a day that Vice President Dick Cheney made a surprise visit to Baghdad.
The Pentagon hopes to be able to reduce US troop levels as Iraqi security forces become more capable of defending their own country, but it is unclear when that point will be reached. The usual US troop level this year of about 138,000 was strengthened to about 160,000 this fall out of concern for a potential rise in violence during voting in October and December.
"It is also important for every American to understand the consequences of pulling out of Iraq before our work is done," Bush said. "We would abandon our Iraqi friends and signal to the world that America cannot be trusted to keep its word. ... We would hand Iraq over to enemies who have pledged to attack us and the global terrorist movement would be emboldened and more dangerous than ever before."
Acknowledging doubts about his strategy, Bush said, "Some look at the challenges in Iraq, and conclude that the war is lost, and not worth another dime or another day.
"I don't believe that," he said. "Our military commanders do not believe that. Our troops in the field, who bear the burden and make the sacrifice, do not believe that America has lost. And not even the terrorists believe it. We know from their own communications that they feel a tightening noose and fear the rise of a democratic Iraq."
Representative John Murtha, a Democrat, has said the United States should redeploy all troops as quickly as possible because more than half of the Iraqi people "want us out and almost half of them think we're the enemy."
A new poll shows that a strong majority of Americans oppose an immediate withdrawal of US troops. The AP-Ipsos poll found 57 percent of those surveyed said the US military should stay until Iraq is stabilized.
There is skepticism on Capitol Hill about the US military's ability to sustain forces in Iraq indefinitely and about the ability of Iraqis to carry the load.
"We failed to expand the Army and Marine Corps as many of us wanted to happen a long time ago," said Senator John McCain, a Republican.
Appearing on ABC's "This Week," McCain said that even though militias control some parts of the Iraqi military and there is still corruption, there now are certain towns where the Iraqi military has been able to take over from US troops.
Regarding a turnover to Iraqi troops, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said Bush "has to tell us how we're going to get there. The people on the ground said there is one battalion that can fight alone.
"The last speech he gave, he used the word `victory' 14 times. What does that mean?" asked Reid, appearing on "Fox News Sunday."
Senator Carl Levin, a Democrat appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press, said Iraqis must be told the United States will reconsider its presence unless the new constitution is revised to give the Sunni-Arab community a bigger stake in running the country.
"That's the club, that's the leverage which we must exercise," said Levin. "They've got to unify in order to beat the insurgency."
A disabled Iraq war veteran who is running for Congress in Illinois said she thinks going into Iraq was a mistake.
"We should have been fighting the enemies that attacked us at home on 9/11," said Major Tammy Duckworth, appearing on ABC's "This Week." "We should have been out there trying to catch Osama bin Laden."