At a news conference with reporters at the White House, President Bush offered one of his most sober assessments to date about conditions in Iraq. He insisted that as long as U.S. forces don't leave prematurely, they will win — and help to establish a stable government.
But, Mr. Bush said, Americans who are unhappy with the war can hold him accountable.
"We're pressing Iraq's leaders to take bold measures to save their country, and we're making it clear that America's patience is not unlimited," the president said. "Yet we also understand the difficult challenges Iraq's leaders face, and we will not put more pressure on the Iraqi government than it can bear."
President Bush said there has been a cycle of sectarian violence that has erupted into what he called a "raging conflict." There will be plenty of tough fighting, he said, and it's the U.S. military's job to prevent an all-out civil war.
But Mr. Bush repeatedly refused to speak about what he called hypotheticals — such as when U.S. troops may leave the country. But he did touch on the issue.
"Americans have no intention of taking sides in a sectarian struggle or standing in the crossfire between rival factions," the president said.
After expressing his confidence in the Iraqi government and in his own Cabinet, President Bush was asked about accountability in Iraq — and who would be held responsible if the war plan fails.
"It's what the 2004 campaign was about," President Bush said. "If people want to — if people are unhappy about it, look right to the president."
And some voters may do just that in two weeks, when they vote in midterm elections. Polls show a solid majority of Americans unhappy with the war and with the president's handling of it. And some Republicans have been urging Mr. Bush to adjust his Iraq strategy.