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Bush Cites Setbacks in Rebuilding By the U.S.
Only a few hundred members showed up for the hastily organized event at a Washington hotel and empty chairs were removed from the back of the ballroom before Bush arrived. The audience interrupted Bush for applause only once during the speech and even then, many, if not most, did not clap. There was polite applause when he finished.
Rand Beers, former Bush White House official who advised Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), said he would have liked to have asked Bush why he is so resistant to setting even a loose timetable for withdrawal. "I don't understand why that can't be part of the discussion," Beers said.
Bush focused on what he called the "battle after the battle," the U.S. effort to reconstruct Iraq after decades of tyranny, war and international sanctions in one of history's most audacious attempts at nation building.
Congress has approved $20.9 billion for reconstruction in Iraq, of which $17.5 billion has been obligated and just $12 billion spent, according to the State Department. With security diverting a quarter of the money that has been spent, many projects remain incomplete and electricity is still sporadic for many Iraqis. The failure to do more reconstruction has only fueled the insurgency, according to critics, including some former Bush aides.
Without ever using the words "mistake" or "error," Bush said the administration miscalculated by clearing insurgents out of a city and then moving onto another assignment, only to allow enemy forces to retake control.
It also focused on large reconstruction projects "yet we found our approach was not meeting the priorities of the Iraqi people," so it switched to local projects such as sewer lines and city roads. He also said that "corruption is a problem at both the national and local levels" and that "another problem is the infiltration of militia groups into some Iraqi security forces."
But Bush said the administration has "changed and improved" its approach and held out the cities of Najaf and Mosul as models, the first a holy city for Shiites and the second home to a mix of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. He said Americans have rebuilt schools, hospitals and police stations, restored water, repaired roads and bridges and, in one case, reopened a soccer stadium "complete with new lights and fresh sod."
"In places like Mosul and Najaf, residents are seeing tangible progress in their lives," he said. "They're gaining a personal stake in a peaceful future and their confidence in Iraq's democracy is growing. The progress of these cities is being replicated across much of Iraq."