Beleaguered Bush struggles to reverse tide of pessimism over Iraq

As new violence ripped through Iraq, President Bush insisted yesterday that he has a plan to defeat the insurgency that, critics say, now threatens to trap the US in a war without end, resembling the Vietnam debacle three decades ago.

Mr Bush used his weekly radio address to prepare the way for a major speech on Tuesday at the US army base at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in which he hopes to reverse the tide of public pessimism and disillusion on the course of the Iraq war. The speech marks the first anniversary of the return of sovereignty to an Iraqi government after the March 2003 invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, but it comes at a time when, at home and abroad, almost everything is going wrong for the administration.

On the domestic front, reverses on his signature social security reform policy, failure to secure the confirmation of John Bolton as US envoy to the UN, and rebellions even by some Republicans on Capitol Hill have led to charges that, less than six months into his second term, he is already a lame duck President.

Abroad, the election of religious conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the new Iranian President could complicate the faltering efforts to reconcile Sunnis and Shias in Iraq. Since the invasion, at least 1,730 US servicemen have died in Iraq, and in the past few days the violence has not abated. But the news from the front is unrelentingly bleak. At least six marines were killed in a suicide car bombing in Fallujah on Thursday, while up to 20 Iraqis, including a dozen police officers, have died in four separate attacks in the past 36 hours. In his radio address, Mr Bush warned that there would be "more tough fighting in the weeks and months ahead" - implicitly contradicting the assertion of Vice-President Dick Cheney that the insurgency was in "its last throes".

The strategy Mr Bush will set out next week is twofold: stepped-up training of Iraqi forces to handle their own security, and continuing progress towards the establishment of a solid democracy. A new constitution is due to be drafted by 15 August. That deadline looks unlikely to be met, but US officials fear that a long delay will only play into the hands of the insurgency.

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