As Iraq War Heads Into 4th Year, Bush Pledges 'Complete Victory'

By Guy Gugliotta
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 19, 2006

On the eve of the third anniversary of the Iraq invasion, President Bush yesterday promised to "finish the mission" with "complete victory," urging the American public to remain steadfast but offering no indication when victory may be achieved.

"More fighting and sacrifice will be required," Bush said in his weekly radio address. "For some, the temptation to retreat and abandon our commitments is strong. Yet there is no peace, there's no honor and there's no security in retreat. So America will not abandon Iraq to the terrorists who want to attack us again."

Bush's address comes at a time when confidence in the administration's Iraq strategy appears to have reached a new low. A Washington Post-ABC News poll this month found that 65 percent of Americans think Bush has no plan for victory, while 35 percent -- the lowest level ever recorded by the poll -- think he does.

Bush used the radio address to draw attention to speeches he is giving to rally support for the war. Last week, he focused on efforts to train Iraqi troops and success at mitigating the threat of terrorist bombings and casualties caused by roadside "improvised explosive devices."

A White House fact sheet on Iraq noted that casualties from the devices have been halved in the past 18 months and that nearly half of the devices are being found and disabled before they can be detonated.

The fact sheet also buttressed the president's assertion last week that Iraqi security forces are assuming greater battlefield responsibility.

Democrats noted last week, however, that a recent Pentagon report said the number of "Level 1" Iraqi units capable of operating independently of the United States had dropped from one to zero.

For the most part, the fact sheet ignored the missteps and false starts that have dogged the war since the invasion on March 19, 2003, and instead contrasted Iraq under Saddam Hussein with Iraq today.

Three years ago, the fact sheet said, "life in Iraq was marked by brutality, fear and terror" and Iraqis "had no voice in their country or their lives." Today, it said, "the reign of terror has been replaced by a democratically elected government."

In his address, Bush noted that sectarian violence plagues Iraq, but he urged Iraqis to "reach across political, religious and sectarian lines," to convert December's democratic elections into a "government that can confront the terrorist threat and earn the trust and confidence of all Iraqis."

"These past three years have tested our resolve," he said. "The enemy has proved brutal and relentless . . . and our troops have shown magnificent courage and made tremendous sacrifices" which, along with Iraqi sacrifices, had given Iraq a "historic opportunity" to rebuild itself.

"The security of our country is directly linked to the liberty of the Iraqi people," Bush said, "and we will settle for nothing less than complete victory."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company