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Iraq Transition

Bush: U.S. shifting tactics in Iraq War

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Wednesday said the United States is "shifting" its tactics in the Iraq war as the "enemy shifts" theirs.

But "Americans have no intention of taking sides in a sectarian struggle or standing in the crossfire between rival factions," he said.

Below is a partial transcript of his statement at the White House:

BUSH: I'm going to spend a little more time on my opening comments than I usually do, but I'll save plenty of time for questions. (Watch Bush defend his new strategy against criticism that it's an election season ploy -- 2:24 Video)

Over the past three years, I have often addressed the American people to explain developments in Iraq. Some of these developments were encouraging, such as the capture of Saddam Hussein, the elections in which 12 million Iraqis defied the terrorists and voted for a free future and the demise of the brutal terrorist [Abu Musab al-]Zarqawi.

Other developments were not encouraging, such as the bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, the fact that we did not find stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, and the continued loss of some of America's finest sons and daughters.

Recently, American and Iraqi forces have launched some of the most aggressive operations on enemy forces in Baghdad since the war began. They have cleared neighborhoods of terrorists and death squads and uncovered large caches of weapons, including sniper scopes and mortars and powerful bombs.

There had been heavy fighting. Many enemy fighters had been killed or captured.

And we've suffered casualties of our own. This month we've lost 93 service members in Iraq; the most since October of 2005.

During roughly the same period, more than 300 Iraqi security personnel have given their lives in battle. Iraqi civilians have suffered unspeakable violence at the hands of the terrorists, insurgents, illegal militias, armed groups and criminals.

The events of the past month have been a serious concern to me and a serious concern to the American people.

Today I will explain how we're adapting our tactics to help the Iraqi government gain control of the security situation. I will also explain why, despite the difficulties and bloodshed, it remains critical that America defeat the enemy in Iraq by helping the Iraqis build a free nation that can sustain itself and defend itself.

Our security at home depends on ensuring that Iraq is an ally in the war on terror and does not become a terrorist haven like Afghanistan under the Taliban.

The enemy we face in Iraq has evolved over the past three years. After the fall of Saddam Hussein, a sophisticated and violent insurgency took root.

Early on, this insurgency was made up of remnants of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, as well as criminals released by the regime. The insurgency was fueled by al Qaeda and other foreign terrorists who focused most of their attention on high-profile attacks against coalition forces and international institutions.

We learned some key lessons from that early phase in the war. We saw how quickly al Qaeda and other extremist groups would come to Iraq to fight and try to drive us out. We overestimated the capability of the civil service in Iraq to continue to provide essential services to the Iraqi people.

We did not expect the Iraqi army, including the Republican Guard, to melt away in the way that it did in the face of advancing coalition forces.

Despite these early setbacks, some very important progress was made in the midst of an incredibly violent period.

Iraqis formed an interim government that assumed sovereignty. The Iraqi people elected a transitional government; drafted and adopted the most progressive democratic constitution in the Arab world; braved the car bombs and assassins to choose a permanent government under that constitution; and slowly began to build a capable national army.

Al Qaeda and insurgents were unable to stop this progress. They tried to stand up to our forces in places like Falluja -- and they were routed, so they changed their tactics.

In an intercepted letter to Osama bin Laden, the terrorist [al-] Zarqawi laid out his strategy to drag Iraq's Shia population into a sectarian war.

To the credit of the Shia population, they resisted; responding to the horrific violence against them for a long time.

Yet the persistent attacks, particularly last February's bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, one of the Shia Islam's most holy shrines, eventually resulted in sectarian reprisals.

The cycle of violence in which al Qaeda insurgents attacked Shia civilians and Shia death squads retaliated against Sunnis has sharply increased in recent months, particularly in Baghdad.

As the enemy shifts tactics, we are shifting our tactics as well.

Americans have no intention of taking sides in a sectarian struggle or standing in the crossfire between rival factions. Our mission is to help the elected government in Iraq defeat common enemies, to bring peace and stability to Iraq and make our nation more secure.

Our goals are unchanging. We are flexible in our methods to achieving those goals.

On the military side, our commanders on the ground are constantly adjusting our tactics to stay ahead of our enemies.

We are refining our training strategy for the Iraqi security forces, so we can help more of those forces take the lead in the fight and provide them better equipment and firepower to be successful.

We've increased the number of coalition advisers in the Iraqi ministries of defense and interior, so they can better plan and execute security operations against the enemy.

We have changed our force structure ,so we can better respond to the conditions on the ground. For example, during the Iraqi elections, we increased our force levels to more than 150,000 troops to ensure people could vote.

Most recently, we have moved additional coalition and Iraqi forces into Baghdad, so they can help secure the city and reduce sectarian violence.

After some initial successes, our operations to secure Baghdad have encountered greater resistance.

Some of the Iraqi security forces have performed below expectations.

Many have performed well and are fighting bravely in some of Baghdad's toughest neighborhoods.

Once again, American troops are performing superbly under very difficult conditions. Together with the Iraqis, they've conducted hundreds of missions throughout Baghdad. They've rounded up or killed key insurgents and death squad leaders.

As we fight this enemy, we are working with the Iraqi government to perform -- the performance -- to improve the performance of their security forces, so they can regain control of the nation's capital and eventually assume primary responsibility for their country's security.

A military solution alone will not stop violence. In the end, the Iraqi people and their government will have to make the difficult decisions necessary to solve these problems.

So, in addition to refining our military tactics to defeat the enemy, we're also working to help the Iraqi government achieve a political solution that brings together Shia and Sunni and Kurds and other ethnic and religious groups.

Yesterday, our ambassador to Iraq, Zal Khalilzad, laid out a three-step approach.

First, we're working with political and religious leaders across Iraq, urging them to take steps to restrain their followers and stop sectarian violence.

Second, we're helping Iraqi leaders to complete work on a national compact to resolve the most difficult issues dividing their country. The new Iraqi government has condemned violence from all quarters and agreed to a schedule for resolving issues such as disarming illegal militias and death squads, sharing oil revenues, amending the Iraqi constitution and reforming the de-Baathification process.

Third, we are reaching out to Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan, asking them to support the Iraqi government's efforts to persuade Sunni insurgents to lay down their arms and accept national reconciliation.

The international community is also supporting the international compact that outlines the support that will be provided to Iraq, as it moves forward with its own program of reform.

These are difficult tasks for any government. It is important for Americans to recognize that Prime Minister Maliki's unity government has been in office for just over five months.

Think about that: This young government has to solve a host of problems created by decades of tyrannical rule. And they have to do it in the midst of raging conflict against extremists from outside and inside the country who are doing everything they can to stop this government from succeeding.

We are pressing Iraqi's leaders to take bold measures to save their country. We're making it clear that America's patience is not unlimited.

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.

The way to succeed in Iraq is to help Iraq's government grow in strength and assume more control over its country as quickly as possible.

I know the American people understand the stakes in Iraq. They want to win. They will support the war as long as they see a path to victory.

Americans can have confidence that we will prevail because thousands of smart, dedicated military and civilian personnel are risking their lives and are working around the clock to ensure our success.

A distinguished independent panel of Republicans and Democrats, led by Former Secretary of State Jim Baker and Former Congressman Lee Hamilton, is taking a fresh look at the situation in Iraq and will make recommendations to help achieve our goals.

I welcome all these efforts.

My administration will carefully consider any proposal that will help us achieve victory.

It's my responsibility to provide the American people with a candid assessment on the way forward. There is tough fighting ahead. The road to victory will not be easy. We should not expect a simple solution.

The fact that the fighting is tough does not mean our efforts in Iraq are not worth it.

To the contrary, the consequences in Iraq will have a decisive impact on the security of our country, because defeating the terrorists in Iraq is essential to turning back the cause of extremism in the Middle East.

If we do not defeat the terrorists or extremists in Iraq, they will gain access to vast oil reserves and use Iraq as a base to overthrow moderate governments across the broader Middle East.

They will launch new attacks on America from this new safe haven. They will pursue their goal of a radical Islamic empire that stretches from Spain to Indonesia.

I know many Americans are not satisfied with the situation in Iraq. I'm not satisfied either. And that is why we're taking new steps to help secure Baghdad and constantly adjusting our tactics across the country to meet the changing threat.

But we cannot allow our dissatisfaction to turn into disillusionment about our purpose in this war. We must look at every success -- we must not look at every success of the enemy as a mistake on our part, cause for an investigation or a reason to call for our troops to come home.

We must not fall prey to the sophisticated propaganda by the enemy, who is trying to undermine our confidence and make us believe that our presence in Iraq is the cause of all its problems.

If I did not think our mission in Iraq was vital to America's security, I'd bring our troops home tomorrow.

I've met too many wives and husbands who've lost their partners in life; too many children who won't ever see their mom and dad again. I owe it to them and to the families who still have loved ones in harm's way to ensure that their sacrifices are not in vain.

Our country's faced adversity before during times of war. In past wars, we've lost young Americans who gave everything to protect our freedom and way of life.

In this war, we've lost good men and women who've given their lives for a cause that is necessary and it is just.

We mourn every loss. And we must gird ourselves for the sacrifices that are yet to come. America's men and women in uniform are the finest in the world. I'm awed by their strength and their character.

As General Casey reported yesterday in Iraq, the men and women of the armed forces have never lost a battle in over three years in the war.

Every American can take pride in our troops and the vital work they are doing to protect us. Our troops are fighting a war that will set the course for this new century.

The outcome will determine the destiny of millions across the world. Defeating the terrorists and extremists is the challenge of our time and the calling of this generation.

I'm confident this generation will answer that call and defeat an ideology that is bent on destroying America and all that we stand for.

And now I'll be glad to answer some of your questions.


Bush spoke Wednesday at a news conference about ways the United States is adapting its tactics in the Iraq war.


• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide
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