WASHINGTON – A day after a Pentagon report described spreading sectarian violence and increasingly complex security problems in Iraq, President Bush painted a rosier picture. "Our commanders and diplomats on the ground believe that Iraq has not descended into a civil war," Bush said Saturday in his weekly radio address. "They report that only a small number of Iraqis are engaged in sectarian violence, while the overwhelming majority want peace and a normal life in a unified country."
The president acknowledged "a bloody campaign of sectarian violence" and the "difficult and dangerous" work of trying to end it.
On Friday, the Pentagon reported that death squads increasingly targeting mainly Iraqi civilians heighten the risk of civil war. The report, the latest in a series required by Congress, also said the Sunni-led insurgency "remains potent and viable."
"Conditions that could lead to civil war exist in Iraq, specifically in and around Baghdad, and concern about civil war within the Iraqi civilian population has increased in recent months," the report said.
A growing number of members of Congress are calling for either a shift in the Bush administration's Iraq strategy or a timetable for beginning a substantial withdrawal of American forces.
But Bush, repeating nearly word-for-word the message of a speech earlier this week in Salt Lake City, said, "The security of the civilized world depends on victory in the war on terror, and that depends on victory in Iraq, so America will not leave until victory is achieved."
He added, "The path to victory will be uphill and uneven, and it will require more patience and sacrifice from our nation."
The president's radio remarks are part of a new White House offensive to build support for the Iraq war and for Republicans in the fall elections. This series of speeches was launched Thursday, with an address before an American Legion convention, and is to culminate Sept. 19 with remarks before the U.N. General Assembly.
The next speech is set for Tuesday, when the White House is bringing representatives from countries that have suffered terrorist attacks to populate the audience and emphasize the global nature of the enemy.
Bush often ticks off a list of recent attacks to demonstrate that the world should be united against Islamic militants who share a purpose, if not a common network. He often says various factions of terrorists — such as Sunnis who swear allegiance to Al Qaeda, Shiites who support groups such as Hezbollah, and "homegrown" terrorists with local grievances — belong under the same umbrella, even though many terrorism experts disagree.
The president plans to expand on this description Tuesday before the Military Officers Association of America, said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. Bush will describe how Islamic militants think, what they have said about their aims and why the world should take them seriously, Perino said.