Cheney Encourages Americans on Iraq

Vice President Dick Cheney asserted Tuesday that the situation in Iraq is continually getting better, while acknowledging misgivings many Americans have about the administration's war strategy.

"Progress has not come easily but it has been steady and we can be confident going forward," said the vice president, according to his remarks prepared for delivery before an enthusiastic military crowd.

Cheney's appearance here was one piece of a broad administration push to counter polls that show waning public support for the war — and President Bush — by highlighting what the administration says is underreported evidence of improvement. Cheney spoke not long after Bush held a White House news conference in part to defend his Iraq record. The president has been delivering a series of speeches devoted to the topic.

With the war in Iraq now in its fourth year, more than 2,300 Americans have died.

Difficult negotiations are ongoing among squabbling Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish blocks in Iraq's new parliament over how to replace the current caretaker government with a broad-based national government representing all of Iraq's communities. The talks are deadlocked over how to apportion the most powerful jobs.

And a wave of sectarian violence that has followed the bombing last month of a Shiite Muslim shrine continues. On Monday alone, 39 people were reported killed by insurgents and shadowy sectarian gangs.

Despite the weeks of reprisal killings that have some saying Iraq is at the brink of civil war, Cheney credited American troops and U.S.-trained Iraqi forces with "maintaining public order" following the Feb. 22 bombing of the famed golden dome atop the Shiite Askariya shrine in Samarra.

He conceded: "There is no doubt that the situation in Iraq is still tense."

But he cited the skills of U.S. soldiers, the desire of Iraqis to be free, and strides in training Iraqi security forces as reasons to be heartened about Iraq now and in the future.

"At times you may wonder if your fellow citizens truly realize the extent of your achievements," Cheney said. "I want you to know that Americans do realize it — and we do not take our military for granted."

Cheney stopped at the headquarters of the U.S. Transportation Command here to thank its personnel for role they play in Iraq, the war on terror and military humanitarian missions, such as evacuations of Hurricane Katrina survivors and assistance to victims of an earthquake in Pakistan. TRANSCOM manages all transportation — of wounded troops, supplies, equipment and other cargo — for the U.S. military.

While Cheney received a private briefing from command officials, a live band warmed up about 3,000 troops and family members gathered in a chilly hangar before a stage bedecked with flags and camouflage netting.

The vice president also defended the warrantless eavesdropping program that Bush authorized after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"There are no communications more important to the safety of the United States than those related to Al Qaeda that have one end in the United States," he said.