WASHINGTON – President Bush said liberation for Iraqis was close and praised American military success while denouncing Saddam Hussein's regime.
"No crime of this dying regime will divert us from our mission," Bush said Saturday in his weekly radio address. "Village by village, city by city, liberation is coming."
The address was broadcast a day after the White House announced Bush's acceptance of British Prime Minister Tony Blair's invitation to meet him Monday in Northern Ireland to review the war's progress.
In his address, Bush reviewed battlefield successes: clearing southern cities of loyalists to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, opening a northern front, closing in on Baghdad, and bombing Iraqi military targets out of existence.
He also detailed what he said were the "atrocities of that regime," including using women, children and religious sites as shields from U.S. assault, forcing soldiers into battle, and executing prisoners of war.
Bush was giving Blair a boost at home by agreeing to discuss peace in Northern Ireland and the Middle East. Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahearn was joining them.
Still, Iraq would dominate the two days of talks between the wartime partners: Battle plans, the pace of humanitarian aid deliveries to civilians and an issue dividing them -- the thorny question of who is involved, and to what extent, in Iraq's postwar reconstruction.
Bush's blueprint for rebuilding Iraq calls for a short-term American civil administrator and an interim authority composed of Iraqis that would pave the way for an elected permanent government. Blair is said to prefer the United Nations play a larger role in the postwar transition, an option favored by European critics of the U.S.-led invasion.
Who runs Iraq has been a subject of debate within the Bush administration as well.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has urged Bush to immediately install a provisional Iraqi government made up of Iraqi expatriates with some experience in democracy. Secretary of State Colin Powell has argued instead for a transitional authority and the involvement of Iraqis currently living under Saddam's rule as well as exiles.
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice suggested that the president favored a middle ground, saying Friday that his choice was an interim Iraqi authority consisting of people from both inside and outside the country.
Rice also said the president was open to establishing the interim authority in some parts of the country even before all violence had been quelled or Baghdad is under coalition control, a nod to Rumsfeld's call for quick action.
She also restated the Bush administration position that the United States -- with the Pentagon leading the effort -- should dominate oversight of the postwar transition period, in which the Americans would take charge of providing security and delivering basic services with the help of Iraqis, the United Nations, coalition partners and others. The U.N. role, Rice said, will not be limited only to humanitarian matters but has yet to be determined precisely.
"It would only be natural to expect that after having participated and having liberated Iraq with coalition forces, and having given life and blood to liberate Iraq, that the coalition intends to have ... the leading role," she said.
Bush spent nearly an hour Friday talking with about a dozen Iraqis living in the United States who shared stories of Saddam's repressive regime.
Bush assured them that the United States would not abandon Iraqis hoping to rid their country of Saddam, saying that coalition forces are "slowly peeling ... off their throats" the fingers of "Saddam's thugs." The president suggested their home country would be free in short order, while saying that "the only timetable is one that yields victory."