WASHINGTON, March 20, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Bush conceded today that the war in Iraq isn't going as well as he had hoped, but he expressed confidence in a strategy that he said eventually would lead to a secure, democratic Iraq.
In a speech to a civic group in the central U.S. city of Cleveland, Bush said he understood how Americans might have lost some confidence in how the war is proceeding. But he pointed to the northwestern Iraqi city of Tal Afar, which he said once was a haven for terrorists but now is pacified and well-protected by both U.S. and Iraqi forces.
Bush said that despite the continuing violence in Iraq, his administration's effort to train Iraqi forces has paid off.
"I wish I could tell you that the progress made in Tal Afar is the same in every single part of Iraq. It's not. Though most of the country has remained relatively peaceful, in some parts of Iraq, the enemy is carrying out savage acts of violence, particularly in Baghdad and the surrounding areas of Baghdad," Bush said. "But the progress made in bringing more Iraqi security forces on line is helping to bring peace and stability to Iraqi cities."
Bush's speech was one of a series of events planned to bolster American's confidence in his Iraq strategy. Other senior members of his administration also have spoken out on the subject.
From The Same Songbook
Bush even enlisted Jaap De Hoop Scheffer, the secretary-general of NATO, in the effort. The two met earlier today at the White House in Washington. In a brief meeting with reporters, Bush thanked de Hoop Scheffer for NATO's help in training Iraqi security forces.
"The president, instead of making speeches to the American people which should have been made three years ago about where we were, should be on an airplane going to the world capitals insisting that the rest of the world step up to their responsibility, to put collective international pressure on all the parties involved in Iraq to form a consensus government." U.S. Senator Joe Biden
De Hoop Scheffer expressed pride in the contribution that NATO has made to Iraq's future.
"All 26 NATO allies participate in one way or the other in the training mission in Iraq," De Hoop Scheffer said. "And I want to see NATO-trained Iraqi officers taking their responsibility in fighting the terrorists in their own country. In other words, NATO is delivering."
Bush's speech in part echoed those made by Vice President Dick Cheney yesterday. Appearing on a national television news program -- CBS's "Face the Nation" -- Cheney said Americans should look beyond the current violence towards the administration's vision of a stable Iraq in the next decade. He said this also would lead to a more stable Middle East.
And Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wrote a commentary for "The Washington Post" newspaper in which he rejected the idea of quickly withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq. He wrote that doing so would be like returning Germany to the Nazis after World War 2, or ceding Eastern Europe to Soviet control today.
Also on Sunday, Iraq's former interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, said he believes that the sectarian violence that has gripped his country for the past month amounts to civil war.
Critics Call For Iraqi Unity
The Bush administration has said it is premature to say a civil war has broken out. But one of its most prominent critics -- Senator Joseph Biden (Democrat, Delaware), a member of the opposition Democratic Party -- said today that the violence does in fact constitute civil war.
At a news conference in Washington, Biden said Iraq is experiencing a "low-grade civil war." He said this was due to the White House strategy, which he characterized as incompetent.
Biden said it is time for Bush to forget about speeches and enlist the leaders of other countries to help persuade Iraq's current leaders to form a government of national unity. This could prevent the current bloodshed from becoming what he called an all-encompassing civil war, he added.
"The president, instead of making speeches to the American people which should have been made three years ago about where we were, should be on an airplane going to the world capitals insisting that the rest of the world step up to their responsibility, to put collective international pressure on all the parties involved in Iraq to form a consensus government," Biden said.
Biden also called on Rumsfeld to resign. He said that one act would go a long way to restoring U.S. credibility overseas because Rumsfeld is seen as a principal architect of Bush's war policy.
Meanwhile, about 200 antiwar protesters marched today without incident from central Washington towards the U.S. Defense Department offices, carrying a coffin representing the tens of thousands of people killed in Iraq. They said they wanted to deliver the coffin to Rumsfeld, but guards kept them off Pentagon grounds.
More protests marking the anniversary took place in several U.S. cities over the weekend. No trouble was reported at any of the demonstrations.
RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz with U.S. troops in Iraq in March 2003 (RFE/RL)
THE SOUND OF THE GUNS: In the days just before and after the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom on March 19-20, 2003, RFE/RL worked hard to cover the unfolding conflict. RFE/RL correspondent RON SYNOVITZ was embedded with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team in the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division as it crossed the border from Kuwait and drove deep into Iraq. Synovitz stayed with the U.S. troops through mid-April, covering the battle for Baghdad and the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime.
Listen to Synovitz's report from the Iraq-Kuwait border on March 18, 2003 (about four minutes):
Listen to Synovitz's report from March 19, 2003, just hours before the 3rd Infantry Division began to cross into Iraq (about three minutes):
Embedded RFE/RL Correspondent Recalls War's First Day
RFE/RL correspondent CHARLES RECKNAGEL also covered the beginning of the war from Kuwait and Iraq. Here are some links to his reports:
Iraq: Desert Dispatch -- The View From Kuwait
Kuwait: Desert Dispatch -- Kuwait City Under Constant Air-Raid Alerts
Iraq: Desert Dispatch -- Correspondent Crosses Iraq Border
THE COMPLETE PICTURE: To view an archive of RFE/RL's coverage of the beginning of combat operations in Iraq, click here.
RFE/RL's complete coverage of events in Iraq and that country's ongoing transition.