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Bush: Iraqis Want Future of Peace

Despite the gruesome violence in Iraq last weekend, President Bush continues to emphasize the positive, saying, "Iraqis have shown the world they want a future of freedom and peace."

Democrats say it's the same old rhetoric, not a real strategy for victory in Iraq.

"Rather than leading a White House public relations blitz, the president should lead by pulling the factions together right away in a summit to develop a unified plan for Iraq's future," Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said Monday.

In the first of a series of speeches to mark the third anniversary of the start of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, Bush warned of more "chaos and carnage in the days and months to come."

He highlighted improvements in the Iraqi security forces and repeated his promise that U.S. troops will stand down as Iraqi forces are able to defend the country.

"As more capable Iraqi police and soldiers come on line, they will assume responsibility for more territory — with the goal of having the Iraqis control more territory than the coalition by the end of 2006," the president said.

Police have found at least 65 bodies in Baghdad, including 15 men bound and shot in an abandoned minibus, in a 24-hour period after car bomb and mortar attacks in the Shiite slum of Sadr City in east Baghdad on Sunday in which 58 people died and more than 200 were wounded.

Bush urged patience from Americans and coalition allies as Iraqis work to form a new government. He said the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra "was a clear attempt to ignite a civil war."

"I wish I could tell you that the violence is waning and that the road ahead will be smooth," Bush said. "It will not. There will be more tough fighting and more days of struggle."

He said the terrorists are using violence in hopes that they can "shake our resolve and force us to retreat. They're not going to succeed."

The president, speaking to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies at George Washington University, said the Iraqi military is taking on more responsibility. He said it was Iraqis, not coalition forces, who restored order after the attack in Samarra.

Bush said Iraqi forces have taken primary responsibility for more than 30,000 of the country's 170,000 square miles. That's far higher than the Pentagon's Feb. 24 report to Congress, which said Iraqi forces "have assumed ownership of" slightly more than 12,000 square miles of Iraq. Bush's goal is to have Iraqis in control of most of Iraq by the end of the year.

More than 130 Iraqi battalions are fighting the enemy, Bush said, with more than 60 taking the lead. That's up from 120 battalions and 40 in the lead last year.

Iraqi forces have planned, conducted and led more than 200 independent operations in the past two weeks, more than those being conducted by coalition forces, Bush said.

"Not all Iraqi units performed as well as others," he said. "And there were some reports of Iraqi units in eastern Baghdad allowing militia members to pass through checkpoints. But American commanders are closely watching the situation, and they report these incidents appear to be the exception, not the rule."

The president said the upheaval in the country is being perpetrated by a violent minority. He said most Iraqis want to live in peace and freedom, and they will get it with U.S. help.

Bush also touted efforts to fight the enemy's use of improvised explosive devices, which are bombs that can be hidden and detonated remotely.

Leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee met Monday with the head of the military's task force studying the bombs, Ret. Gen. Montgomery Meigs, who said there is "no silver bullet" to stopping the devices.

"I'd say the enemy is coming up with more lethal combinations and we're being able to hold his effectiveness down to an unacceptably low level, but we're making progress in that area," Meigs told reporters after the meeting.