President George W. Bush is predicting a year of "more testing and sacrifice" in Iraq as he extends his campaign to turn around the public's low opinion of his performance on the war. A speech by the president to a gathering of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Washington on Tuesday was another in a series, begun in December, aimed at talking to Americans in more detail and more candidly about the situation in Iraq.
An AP-Ipsos poll found just 39 percent of those surveyed last week approved of his handling of the war, compared with 41 percent in early December. Bush administration and military officials have repeatedly said that the road to rebuilding Iraq and stabilizing the conflict-ravaged country will be a difficult. Yet they point to a series of political milestones as proof that a democratic Iraq is taking shape.
But a resilient and tenacious insurgency continues to exact its toll, and violence against Iraqis and U.S. troops has surged in recent days. "2006 will be a time of more testing and sacrifice," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. "The terrorists and Saddam loyalists want to continue to try to derail the transition to democracy."
Still, the president planned to highlight progress in fashioning a democracy in Iraq, rebuilding the economy and training Iraqi forces to take over responsibility for the country's security from American military personnel. "He will talk about how in each of these areas we have learned from experience," McClellan said. "We're fixing what's not working and we're adapting as necessary to complete the mission." Bush was to press the number of foreign governments who have not yet followed through on their financial pledges to Iraq's reconstruction to do so quickly, McClellan said.
"They need to be fulfilled to help the Iraqi people move forward," he said. Bush also was taking on Democratic opponents of his approach in Iraq, reports the AP. I.L.