Even on a particularly grim day, when four Iraqi bodies were found hanging from utility towers and at least 58 people were killed by car bombs, the president said progress was being made. He highlighted improvements in the Iraqi security forces and repeated his promise that U.S. troops will stand down as Iraqi forces are able to defend the country.
"By their response over the past two weeks, Iraqis have shown the world they want a future of freedom and peace," Mr. Bush said in the first of a series of speeches to mark the third anniversary of the start of the U.S.-led war. "And they will oppose a violent minority that seeks to take that future away from them by tearing their country apart."
Democrats charged that Mr. Bush was focusing on the same old rhetoric defending policies that Americans oppose instead of a real strategy for victory in Iraq. Both sides of the political debate have their eye on midterm elections in eight months.
"Rather than leading a White House public relations blitz, the president should lead by pulling the factions together right away in a summit to develop a unified plan for Iraq's future," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.
Mr. Bush urged patience among Americans and coalition allies as Iraqis work to form a new government. He said the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra "was a clear attempt to ignite a civil war."
"I wish I could tell you that the violence is waning and that the road ahead will be smooth," Mr. Bush said. "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."
He said the terrorists are using violence in hopes that they can "shake our resolve and force us to retreat. They're not going to succeed."
But Americans seem to be losing patience. The latestshows just 15 percent think the U.S. is very likely to succeed in Iraq, down from 21 percent in January. Another 36 percent say success is somewhat likely, down from 42 percent just two months ago. Forty-seven percent say it is either not very or not likely at all that the U.S. will achieve success.
CBS News chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod reports Mr. Bush said Iran is to blame for the ever-more lethal versions of roadside bombs. It's part of the president's strategy to cast violence as the work of outside terrorists, Axelrod reports.
The president, speaking to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies at George Washington University, said the Iraqi military is taking on more responsibility. He said it was Iraqis, not coalition forces, who restored order after the attack in Samarra.
Mr. Bush said Iraqi forces have taken primary responsibility for more than 30,000 of the country's 170,000 square miles. That's far higher than the Pentagon's Feb. 24 report to Congress, which said Iraqi forces "have assumed ownership of" slightly more than 12,000 square miles of Iraq. Bush's goal is to have Iraqis in control of most of Iraq by the end of the year.
More than 130 Iraqi battalions are fighting the enemy, Bush said, with more than 60 taking the lead. That's up from 120 battalions and 40 in the lead last year.
Iraqi forces have planned, conducted and led more than 200 independent operations in the past two weeks, more than those being conducted by coalition forces, Mr. Bush said.
"Not all Iraqi units performed as well as others," he said. "And there were some reports of Iraqi units in eastern Baghdad allowing militia members to pass through checkpoints. But American commanders are closely watching the situation, and they report these incidents appear to be the exception, not the rule."