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Last Updated: Monday, 13 March 2006, 01:15 GMT
Bush to defend policies on Iraq
By Matt Davis
BBC News, Washington

US tank burns after bomb attack in Baghdad on 10 March - the crew escaped unhurt
Fighting continues in Iraq nearly three years after the invasion
President George W Bush renews his push for the hearts and minds of the American people on Monday with the first in a new series of speeches designed to convince a sceptical public that the US has a coherent strategy to win the war in Iraq.

The speech at George Washington University comes amid great concern in the White House at polls suggesting a growing number of Americans disapprove of the president's handling of the war, and doubt the prospects for success.

Conflict in Iraq continues to overshadow the domestic agenda Mr Bush set out in January in a State of the Union address supposed to reinvigorate his faltering second term.

But with the third anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom fast approaching, it is an issue that the president cannot avoid confronting head on.

In his national radio address on Saturday, Mr Bush said Monday's speech would focus on the security aspect of the US Strategy for Victory in Iraq - defeating insurgents and training Iraqi security forces.

He said the Iraqi forces - who now number some 240,000 - had "made great strides in the past year" and praised their response to the recent bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, that has touched off increased violence.

The president is also expected to talk about new progress in defeating improvised explosive devices (IEDs) - "the main threat to US troops" - and argue that the pictures of rising casualties and sectarian fighting obscure progress under way.

But he will also acknowledge the unpleasant realities of the conflict - and Americans' response to them.

'Eye-level view'

A recent poll suggested that four out of five Americans believe Iraq's ongoing sectarian violence will escalate into civil war.

"Amid the daily news of car bombs and kidnappings and brutal killings, I can understand why many of our fellow citizens are now wondering if the entire mission was worth it," the president said on Saturday.

He added: "By helping the Iraqi people build a free and representative government, we will deny the terrorists a safe haven to plan attacks against America.

George W Bush in Washington on 12 March
I am confident that our strategy will result in victory, and then our troops can come home with the honour they have earned
George W Bush
"The security of our country is directly linked to the liberty of the Iraqi people. This will require more difficult days of fighting and sacrifice, yet I am confident that our strategy will result in victory, and then our troops can come home with the honour they have earned."

Further speeches in the coming weeks will attempt to bring the view of the conflict "from 30,000 feet down to eye level", White House officials say.

In one address Mr Bush is expected to focus on the military's evolving strategy for dealing with IEDs - for which a new high-level command has been established at the Pentagon.

Reports say another will comprise a case study of an Iraqi town or city to illustrate the US policy of clearing insurgents, installing Iraqi forces and rebuilding.

Events on the ground

Vice-President Dick Cheney and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will also speak out on Iraq ahead of the anniversary of the invasion on 20 March.

The public relations campaign mirrors a similar series of speeches that began last November, and which briefly helped boost the president's approval ratings - now hovering at around 41%.

But events on the ground will continue to be the biggest driver of US public opinion on the war.

The administration is hoping that progress on the political, economic and security fronts will vindicate its "stay the course" policy.

And allow commanders on the ground to start bringing the troops home.


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