Bush sets out strategy for 'democratic' Iraq

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The Independent US

President George Bush today set out a broad strategy for a stable and democratic Iraq, but warned that "the way forward may sometimes appear chaotic".

In a televised address last night, Mr Bush promised to seek the incoming Iraqi government's permission to demolish the Baghdad jail at the centre of prisoner abuse allegations. He said Abu Ghraib prison would be replaced by a new US-constructed maximum-security jail fit for a new Iraq.

He also said that the US would keep its troop level at the current 138,000 as long as necessary but that commanders were constantly reassessing needs.

"If they need more troops, I will send them," Mr Bush said.

With nearly 800 US soldiers killed so far in Iraq, the President warned that the violence would continue. He said: "There are difficult days ahead and the way forward may sometimes appear chaotic."

He also set out five steps to transfer sovereignty back to the Iraq people and ensure a stable democracy can flourish.

Mr Bush delivered the crucial 31-minute prime time address as support for the coalition effort in Iraq slumped amid ongoing security chaos and political instability.

He told an audience at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania: "Iraq now faces a critical moment. As the Iraqi people move closer to governing themselves, the terrorists are likely to become more active and more brutal.

"There are difficult days ahead, and the way forward may sometimes appear chaotic."

In his five step strategy Mr Bush promised to return sovereignty to an interim government on 30 June, secure the country, rebuild its shattered infrastructure, encourage more international support and ensure the people of Iraq have democratic elections.

He offered no time frame on when troops may withdraw, saying that the current number of 138,000 would be maintained "as long as necessary".

Generals on the ground would get more troops if required, Mr Bush said.

"America's task in Iraq is not only to defeat an enemy, it is to give strength to a friend - a free, representative government that serves its people and fights on their behalf," he said.

"And the sooner this goal is achieved, the sooner our job will be done."

He added: "History is moving, and it will tend toward hope, or tend toward tragedy."

Mr Bush said the actions of insurgents had been "brutal, calculating and instructive" in recent weeks.

He said many of those fighters were remnants of Saddam Hussein's elite Republican Guard, which melted away in the face of the coalition invasion.

Repeating his conviction that Iraq is the "central front in the war on terror, Mr Bush said: "The return of tyranny to Iraq would be an unprecedented terrorist victory and a cause for killers to rejoice."

He said it would "embolden the terrorists, leading to more bombings, more beheadings and more murders of the innocent around the world".

Mr Bush said America's enemies wanted to impose Taliban-style totalitarianism across the Middle East.

"The rise of a free and self-governing Iraq will deny terrorists a base of operation, discredit their narrow ideology and give momentum to reformers across the region," he said.

"This will be a decisive blow to terrorism at the heart of its power and a victory for the security of America and the civilised world."

He added: "We will not fail. We will persevere and defeat this enemy and hold this hard-won ground for the realm of liberty."

Mr Bush's speech was widely seen as a bid to reassure the American people after weeks of bad news from Iraq.

The rate at which US soldiers were killed accelerated sharply last month amid a growing number of insurgent attacks. Nearly 800 US military personnel have been killed since the war began last year.

Mr Bush appeared before the cameras wearing make up to cover grazes to his chin and nose which he sustained in a fall during a weekend mountain bike ride.

He has been politically bruised in recent weeks as well, with his approval rating slipping to an all-time low according to one poll.

His job approval in polls by ABC News/Washington Post and CNN/USA Today/Gallup was 47%, near his lowest in those polls.

According to a CBS News poll only 41% of Americans now approve of the job Mr Bush is doing, while 52% disapprove - the lowest overall job rating of his presidency. Two weeks ago, 44 percent approved. A year ago, two-thirds did.

According to the poll, released by CBS yesterday, 61% of Americans disapprove of the way Mr Bush is handling the situation in Iraq, while just 34% approve.

Some 65% of those polled said country was on the wrong track - the highest such figure recorded since 1994.

The only positive area for Mr Bush is the war on terror with 51% approving of the way he is handling the campaign against terrorism.

It all comes with just five months to go before the US presidential election.

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