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President Hails Iraq Election, Urges U.S. Public to Support Policies

In his first Oval Office address since he announced the beginning of the war in 2003, the president outlined what he called the “three critical elements” of his Iraqi strategy: finding and clearing out the enemy in Iraq, helping the Baghdad government establish a lasting democracy, and reconstructing Iraq’s economy and infrastructure.

By staying the course in Iraq and ensuring the growth of democracy in the war-torn nation, the president added “America has an ally of growing strength in the fight against terror.”

But the president also acknowledged doubts about his strategy, saying, “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.”

The president was hoping to stem the growing number of experts and members of Congress calling for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq. One vocal critic, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., has said the United States should redeploy all troops as quickly as possible because more than half of the Iraqis people “want us out and almost half of them think we’re the enemy.”

But the president cautioned against any rash decision to leave, saying it would destabilize the region.

“It is also important for every American to understand the consequences of pulling out of Iraq before our work is done,” Mr. 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.”

A new poll appeared to back the president’s position, finding a strong majority of Americans oppose an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops. The AP-Ipsos poll found 57 percent of those surveyed said the U.S. military should stay until Iraq is stabilized.

“Our forces in Iraq are on the road to victory — and that is the road that will take them home,” President Bush said.

Ahead of the president’s address, the growing chorus of American politicians either opposed to the ongoing war or concerned with the manner in which the president has executed it continued to appear on news programs urging the president to hear their voices.

Despite the president’s rosy assessment, critics in Congress continued to call on Mr. Bush to outline how the military burden would be shifted from U.S. to Iraqi forces.

“He 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,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said on “Fox News Summary”. “The last speech he gave, he used the word ‘victory’ 14 times. What does that mean?”

Even supporters of the president urged him to acknowledge the realities of what must be overcome in Iraq.

“We have a lot of obstacles ahead of us, (and) it is a long, difficult process for any nation to be able to become a democracy,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., adding the president must again acknowledge errors have been made, but that “we can and will prevail,” McCain told ABC’s “This Week.”

In Iraq, the president’s address drew mixed reactions, where some minority Sunni politicians criticized the balloting. Saleh al-Mutlak, a Sunni Arab nationalist who ran in the parliamentary election and has claimed to speak for some concerns of the insurgents, said Americans were not welcome in Iraq and should leave.

“Mr. President, do not believe that a real democratic process took place in Iraq,” he told a news conference, addressing the American president. “If anyone tells you that, they are wrong.”

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