Bush Urges America to Be Patient with War in Iraq

In the first of what's expected to be a series of speeches, President Bush asks for patience with the war in Iraq. He also asks Americans to see past the violence in media accounts of the war. The White House is hoping the speeches will shore up declining public support for the war.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. President Bush today began another effort to change public attitudes toward the war in Iraq. Renewed sectarian violence there has convinced most Americans that civil war is likely, according to several new polls. The president, in the first of a series of speeches, said Americans should look past the violence and media accounts of the war. He said those reports don't tell the whole story. NPR's Don Gonyea has more from the White House.

DON GONYEA reporting:

After a short motorcade ride from the White House to the auditorium at George Washington University, the president seemed intent on mixing candor with optimism in his latest speech on Iraq. There were lines like this one:

President GEORGE W. BUSH: The situation in Iraq is still tense, and we're still seeing acts of sectarian violence and reprisal.

GONYEA: That were immediately followed with lines like this:

President BUSH: Yet out of this crisis we've also seen signs of a hopeful future.

GONYEA: To make that last point, the president spoke of the bomb attack on the holy Shiite shrine in Samarra almost three weeks ago.

President BUSH: Immediately after the attack, I said that Iraq faced a moment of choosing. And in the days that followed, the Iraqi people made their choice. They looked into the abyss and did not like what they saw. After the bombing, most Iraqis saw what the perpetuators of this attack were trying to do.

GONYEA: It was, the president said, an attempt to provoke civil war. But, he said, instead, Iraqi security forces, not Americans, but Iraqis, stepped up, enforcing the curfew, bringing the country back from the brink. And when the mosque bombing in Samarra triggered other violence around the country, the president said Iraqi military and police responded, protecting other sites. In a speech laden with anecdotes, he put forth this example.

President BUSH: A group of armed militia members had gone in and occupied the Al-Nida mosque. An Iraqi army brigade quickly arrived on the scene, and the brigade commander negotiated with the group and secured their peaceful departure. Once again, because Iraqi forces spoke their language and understood their culture, they were able to convince the Iraqi militia to leave peacefully.

GONYEA: The president also acknowledged, though, that not all Iraqi security forces performed as well as others, stating that there were reports of Iraqi units in Baghdad allowing militia members to pass through checkpoints. Still, he insisted that such occurrences are the exception. White House aides had promised before the speech that the president would also focus on how to deal with so-called improvised explosive devices, also known as IEDs. These bombs have become increasingly sophisticated and are the preferred weapon of insurgents in Iraq. The president says the military is adapting to this threat, that hundreds of the nation's best minds are working to come up with high tech means to locate and neutralize IEDs.

The president also used the speech to accuse Iran of supplying Iraqi insurgents with components for roadside bombs. This was the latest in a series of recent administration statements taking a hard line with the Iranian government. Even with the positive signs Mr. Bush sees in Iraq, he also recognizes that he can't talk about the war as he has in the past, when he and his aides were known to complain that good news simply wasn't getting out. Today, three years after the start of the war, the president, too, is forced to offer this kind of blunt assessment.

President BUSH: I wish I could tell you that the violence is waning and that the road ahead will be smooth. It will not. There will be more tough fighting and more days of struggle. And we will see more images of chaos and carnage in the days and months to come.

GONYEA But what he is trying very hard to do, in this speech and in others planned in the coming weeks, is to provide context to offset somewhat the powerful images of violence that are forming Americans' pessimistic view of the war.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House.

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