June 28, 2005

Bush to try to overcome flagging support on Iraq

By Adam Entous

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush will try to shore upwavering support for the Iraq war with an address to the nationon Tuesday night appealing to Americans to stand firm and beprepared for more bloodshed.

Bush will deliver his stay-the-course message surrounded bytroops at the military base at Fort Bragg, North Carolina -- abackdrop designed to whip up patriotic feelings as theadministration tries to cast Iraq as part of the president'sbroader, and more popular, global war on terrorism.

The speech is part of a series of appearances andinterviews by the Bush team after a spate of bloody suicidebombings and attacks by insurgents that has undermined publicfaith in the president's policy.

Bush's approval ratings have fallen to the lowest levels ofhis presidency in part because of growing fears about Iraq.

Bush declared last week the insurgency "will be defeated,"and White House spokesman Scott McClellan said on the eve ofthe president's address, "The way to get our troops home is tocomplete the mission."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld appeared on Monday tolower expectations of what the U.S. mission could achieve,insisting it would be ultimately up to the Iraqis themselves tobeat the insurgency.

"Success for the coalition should not be defined asdomestic tranquillity in Iraq. Other democracies have had tocontend with terrorism and insurgencies for a number of yearsbut they have been able to function and eventually succeed,"Rumsfeld said.

Bush's address marks the anniversary of the handover ofsovereignty, and aides said Bush would point to January'selections and the formation of a committee to write a newconstitution as signs of progress on the political front.

Some prominent Republicans have questioned whether theadministration's rosy statements match the reality on theground.

Part of Bush's message on Tuesday night will be to tellAmericans to expect "tough fighting in the days and weeksahead," McClellan said. But the White House continued to assertthat "significant progress" had been made.

Before Bush's speech, a Washington Post-ABC News poll foundmost Americans did not believe the administration's assertionsimpressive gains were being made against the insurgency.

But a clear majority said they were willing to keep U.S.forces there for an extended time to stabilize the country, TheWashington Post said.

Bush has rejected calls by some lawmakers for setting adeadline for pulling out U.S. troops. He warned that doing sowould embolden the insurgents to wait the Americans out.

Before the address, Bush plans to meet privately withfamilies of soldiers who have died in Iraq. More than 1,700Americans have died in the conflict and thousands more havebeen injured.

The White House wants the public to view the Iraq conflictas part of the war sparked by al Qaeda's attacks on Sept. 11,2001. While support for the war in Iraq and the president'sagenda has eroded in recent months, he remains more popular onthe issue of fighting terrorism.

The official White House schedule described Tuesday'saddress to the nation as "remarks on the War on Terror" --rather than on the Iraq war.

McClellan said Bush's message would be in line with what hesaid after the 2001 attacks. "The president made it clear afterSeptember 11th that some will want us to grow complacent andforget about, or put the attacks off as a distant memory. Butit does require patience and resolve to see this strugglethrough to the end," he said.

Last week, top White House adviser Karl Rove accusedliberals of responding weakly to the Sept. 11 attacks.Democrats complained he was trying to use the attacks as a"political wedge issue" to counter criticism over Iraq.

Although the White House cited ties between Saddam Husseinand al Qaeda as one justification for ousting the Iraqi leaderin 2003, no evidence of any operational links has been found.