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Bush 'pleased with the progress' in Iraq

President says 'free Iraq' possible, despite intelligence report

• The Candidates: Bush | Kerry
George W. Bush
John F. Kerry

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine (CNN) -- In a phone interview with a newspaper, President Bush played down a U.S. intelligence forecast painting a pessimistic picture for the future of Iraq, including the suggestion that civil war could erupt there.

The National Intelligence Estimate was sent to the White House in July with a classified warning predicting that the best case for Iraq was "tenuous stability" and the worst case was civil war, a source confirmed to CNN. (Intelligence report: Iraq prospects bleak)

The 50-page report, completed in July, was commissioned internally within the intelligence community and contained classified and declassified portions.

President Bush talked about the report in an interview published Saturday by The Union Leader of Manchester, New Hampshire.

"The Iraqis are defying the dire predictions of a lot of people by moving toward democracy," Bush told the paper. "It's hard to get to democracy from tyranny. It's hard work. And yet, it's necessary work. But it's necessary work because a democratic Iraq will make the world a freer place and a more peaceful place.

"I'm pleased with the progress," Bush said. "It's hard. Don't get me wrong. It's hard because there are some in Iraq who want to disrupt the election and disrupt the march to democracy, which should speak to their fear of freedom."

The president described the best-case scenario for Iraq as "elections and a free Iraq emerging."

"But I fully understand how hard it is for democracy to grow in a country that has been under a leader that tortured and killed and maimed his people," he said.

On Thursday, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry told members of the National Guard Association of the United States meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada, that Bush knows "the mission in Iraq is in serious trouble."

"That is the truth, as hard as it is to bear," Kerry said. "I believe you deserve a president who isn't going to gild that truth or gild our national security with politics, who is not going to ignore his own intelligence, who isn't going to live in a different world of spin, who will give the American people the truth, not a fantasy world of spin."

Kerry, the junior senator from Massachusetts, said he still believes "it's not too late to turn things around" in Iraq.

Kerry said he would bring in more allies to help train Iraqi forces so that U.S. troops could come home.

Kerry voted for a congressional resolution authorizing Bush to use military force in Iraq but said that if he had been commander in chief, he would have made vastly different decisions with that authority.

"When it comes to Iraq, it's not that I would have done just one thing differently," Kerry said. "I would have done almost everything differently."

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux contributed to this report.

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