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Bush Says Good Progress Made On Revised Iraq Policy

George W. Bush (file photo) (epa) WASHINGTON, December 28, 2006 (RFE/RL) --  U.S. President George W. Bush met today with his top national security aides at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, to discuss ways to stabilize Iraq. He reported making progress, but offered no details of the emerging plan.

Bush said he has moved closer to devising a new Iraq strategy "that we think will help us achieve our objective. As I think about this plan I always have our troops in mind. There is nobody more important in this global war on terror than the men and women who wear the uniform and their families."

The latest strategy planning session involved Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace, and recently confirmed Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Bush said he wants to get further advice before unveiling his plan. And he said he will continue talking to the Baghdad government about how to turn the situation around.

"The key to success in Iraq is to have a government that is willing to deal with the elements there that are trying to prevent this young democracy from succeeding," he added.

'New Year's Resolution' For Troops

Bush had planned to make a major speech on Iraq in a nationally televised broadcast by the end of the year. The White House now says Bush will deliver his speech sometime between New Year's Day and his State of the Union address on January 23.

The president said that as 2007 approaches, he had two main objectives close to his heart -- the security of U.S. troops and safeguarding Iraq.

"People always ask me about a New Year's resolution," he said. "My resolution is that [U.S. troops] will be safe and that we'll come closer to our objective, that we'll be able to help this young democracy survive and thrive and therefore we'll be writing a chapter of peace."

A recent CNN poll found support for Bush's handling of Iraq had dropped to 28 percent, six points lower than in October. A record 70 percent of people who responded to the poll said they disapproved the president's war management.

The independent Iraq Study Group, which released its long-awaited report earlier this month, urged the administration to overhaul its Iraq policy. The panel recommended that Bush start withdrawing most U.S. combat troops by early 2008 and to hold direct talks with Iran and Syria.

More Iraqi Participation

U.S. Army Major General William Caldwell, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, said in Baghdad that the United States ultimately cannot achieve success in Iraq without the help of the Iraqis. "Ultimately, Iraqis have to step up and develop solutions to their country's problems," he said.

Caldwell said 87 percent of operations that have been conducted this month were done by Iraqi security forces operating either independently or jointly with coalition troops.

"There are still significant shortcomings in the Iraq security forces," he cautioned. "Iraqi security forces suffer from deficiencies in logistics, leadership, and, in some cases, loyalty. That is why the multinational force is consistently and continuously reassessing and strengthening how we train, advise, and assist the Iraqi forces."

Bush is said to be considering the so-called surge option -- boosting the number of troops in Iraq temporarily and embedding more U.S. advisers in Iraqi units.

The Pentagon is sending as many as 3,300 additional soldiers to the region. The troops are expected to be deployed into Iraq early next year. The United States currently has about 140,000 troops in Iraq.

On The Verge Of Civil War

On The Verge Of Civil War

The Imam Al-Mahdi Army on parade (epa)

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THE COMPLETE PICTURE: Click on the image to view RFE/RL's complete coverage of events in Iraq and that country's ongoing transition.

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