WASHINGTON – Facing Democratic criticism, ongoing protests at home and a growing price tag, President Bush marked the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq on Monday by pleading for patience and time for his latest strategy to work.
"The new strategy will need more time to take effect. And there will be good days and there will be bad days ahead as the security plan unfolds," the president said in a televised statement from the White House Roosevelt Room.
Bush said fewer than half of the additional 21,500 troops being deployed have arrived to help secure the Iraqi capital. When they do get there, they join 10 Iraqi army brigades and nine national police brigades already on the ground.
"Prime Minister Maliki and General Petraeus emphasized that the Baghdad security plan is still in its early stages and success will take months, not days or weeks," Bush said following a briefing from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Amb. Zalmay Khalilzad and Gen. David Petraeus, who is managing the troops on the ground. He also spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
"Prevailing in Iraq is not going to be easy. General Petraeus says that the environment in Iraq is the most challenging that he has seen in his more than 32 years of service," Bush said.
Monday's four-year war marker was greeted with a series of bombings in various Iraqi cities that claimed the lives of at least 15 civilians. So far, more than 3,200 members of the U.S. military have died in service there. Despite the ongoing bombings, Bush said to back out now would end up being a terrible mistake in the long run.
"It can be tempting to look at the challenges in Iraq and conclude that our best option is to pack up and go home," Bush said. "While that may be satisfying in the short run, the consequences for American security would be devastating."
The message from the president comes as House Democrats this week seek to attach to the war spending bill a requirement that the U.S. withdraw its troops from Iraq by the fall of 2008. A similar measure failed in the Senate last week.
Bush warned that Congress must send him a "clean" emergency spending bill so that U.S. troops have the resources they need to continue operations there.
"They have a responsibility to ensure that this bill provides the funds and the flexibility that our troops need to accomplish their mission. They have a responsibility to provide a clean bill that does not use funding for our troops as leverage to get special interest spending for their districts," Bush said. "And they have a responsibility to get this bill to my desk without strings and without delay."
White House press secretary Tony Snow told reporters that the war spending bill up for consideration by the House would "provide victory for the enemy."
"That is not a fund-the-troops bill but a withdraw-the-troops bill," Snow said. "We think that is an approach that is conducive to defeat. It is a recipe for failure, not for victory. ... It would provide victory for the enemy and not the much-needed and deserved victory for the people of Iraq. Furthermore, it would forfeit the sacrifice that our troops have made in the field."
Democrats defended their efforts, calling for a new direction in Iraq and a phased redeployment of troops.
"As we mark the beginning of the fifth year of the war, Democrats renew our promise to the American people to hold President Bush accountable and change course in Iraq," Dean said in a statement.
"I simply say the only strings attached are those benchmarks and standards endorsed by the president himself," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., on the House floor. "I say that this legislation goes above and beyond the president's funding request, supporting our troops deployed at the tip of the spear and reaffirming our commitment to fighting — and defeating — Al Qaeda."
House Minority Leader John Boehner vowed that his party would vote against the bill. Without GOP support, Democrats may not have enough votes to push the bill through the House.
"Our troops have not quit on us, and Republicans will not quit on them," said Boehner, R-Ohio, who has predicted "99 percent" of GOP lawmakers will vote against the Democratic proposal.
Earlier Monday Rice staunchly defended going to war but acknowledged the administration should have sent more troops initially to quell the civil strife following the invasion.
Asked on CBS's "The Early Show" to say what the administration could have done better, she said that, early on, officials "might have looked to a more localized, more decentralized approach to reconstruction.
"... And I do believe that the kind of counterinsurgency strategy in which Gen. Petraeus is now pursuing, in which we have enough forces to clear an area and hold it, so that building and governance can emerge, is the best strategy. And that probably was not pursued in the very beginning."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.