In Speech, Bush Seeks

To Reassure Nation About Iraq

President Bush called for demolishing Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison -- the scene of Saddam Hussein atrocities and the U.S. military's prisoner abuse -- as he vowed that the United States would succeed in turning Iraq from violence and chaos to a prosperous democracy. [Other developments in the Iraq occupation last week can be found on Page A26.]

Bush's pledge to destroy the notorious prison was the symbolic highlight of a speech Monday designed to convince an increasingly restive public that improvement is coming to Iraq despite a recent wave of violence and an international scandal sparked by images of U.S. troops abusing Iraqi prisoners.

Bush disclosed few new details of the scheduled June 30 handover of limited sovereignty to Iraqis. Instead, he used the speech to draw attention to elements of the transition that were generally known:

"There are five steps in our plan to help Iraq achieve democracy and freedom," Bush said. "We will hand over authority to a sovereign Iraqi government; help establish security; continue rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure; encourage more international support; and move toward a national election that will bring forward new leaders empowered by the Iraqi people."

Bush did not shy away from discussing setbacks, mentioning the insurgency in Fallujah, Karbala and Najaf and the grisly killings of American civilians and a leader of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi authority. He gave more credit to the insurgents, previously dismissed as "few" in number, calling them "sophisticated" and noting that Hussein loyalists had reorganized and rearmed within the civilian population.

-- Dana Milbank

Public Support for Bush on Iraq

Reaches New Low in Latest Poll

Public approval of President Bush's handling of the conflict in Iraq has dropped to its lowest point, with growing fears that the United States is bogged down and rising criticism of Bush's handling of the prison abuse scandal, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Support for Bush on virtually every aspect of the Iraq conflict has declined in the past month as the administration has battled insurgents and grappled with the expanding investigation into the treatment of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison.

Bush's overall job approval rating declined to 47 percent, the lowest the Post-ABC News polls have recorded since he took office, with 50 percent saying they disapprove. Four in 10 Americans gave the president positive marks for his handling of Iraq, the lowest since the conflict began in March 2003.

On the question of whether U.S. forces should remain in Iraq until that country is stabilized or withdraw to avoid further casualties, 58 percent said they favored staying, down from 66 percent last month. The percentage favoring a troop withdrawal reached 40 percent, up 7 percentage points in the past month.

Despite Bush's declining approval ratings, he runs even when pitted against Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), his Democratic challenger.

Bush's political standing has been weakened by an erosion in support among independents and by signs of potential disaffection among his typically rock-solid Republican base. Democrats continue to give the president low marks across the board.

-- Dan Balz and Richard Morin

Popular Prostate Cancer Test

Is Flawed, Researchers Find

Many men who are told they do not have prostate cancer based on the results of a widely used blood test probably do have tumors, researchers reported.

The conclusion is based on a new study of nearly 3,000 men who were told by their doctors that they had nothing to worry about because their scores on the popular prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test fell within the "normal" range. The study found that 15 percent of them actually had tumors.

Although most of the cancers appeared to be so slow-growing that they were unlikely to ever require treatment, a small but significant portion of the malignancies were likely to become life-threatening, the study found.

The findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, were the first to validate the suspicion that PSA testing is missing many cancers. They rekindled a debate among physicians about how aggressively the tests should be used. Many experts argue that the PSA test is overused, frequently prompting men to undergo unnecessary biopsies and treatment for cancer that is growing so slowly it would never bother them. Others say that the opposite is true and the guidelines for interpreting the results should be changed to catch more cancers.

But others argued that there is still insufficient evidence that finding more cancers and treating them would save more lives.

Prostate cancer strikes an estimated 220,900 U.S. men each year and kills about 28,900, making it the most common malignancy in males.

-- Rob Stein

Cost of Drugs for Seniors

Outpacing Inflation, Groups Say

The prices of the brand-name prescription medications most used by senior citizens have climbed much faster than overall inflation in the past several years, a trend that undercuts the impact of the new Medicare drug discount cards that will take effect next week, two consumer groups charged.

In a study tracking the prices of 197 of the most widely used brand-name drugs from 2000 to 2003, AARP found a cumulative increase of 27.6 percent, compared with a general inflation rate of 10.4 percent.

In a separate analysis of the prices of the top 30 brand-name drugs prescribed for seniors, Families USA found an average increase 4.3 times greater than the rate of inflation between January 2003 and January 2004.

Both studies examined the prices charged to wholesalers, mail-order firms and other groups that buy directly from drug manufacturers.

The price increases raise the politically sensitive question of whether seniors will pay any less for medications this year with the Medicare cards, which promise discounts of up to 25 percent for brand-name drugs. All told, 73 cards are being offered by groups such as AARP and companies such as CVS Inc.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson has dismissed suggestions that the discount cards will offer little relief. Thompson's spokesman, William Pierce, said the two studies prove the need for the cards.

-- Marc Kaufman and Bill Brubaker

Kerry Drops Notion of Delaying

Nomination to Fundraise

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) announced that he will formally accept the Democratic presidential nomination at his party's convention in Boston this summer, jettisoning the idea of delaying acceptance to try to narrow a perceived fundraising gap with President Bush.

Less than a week after the unorthodox idea became public -- to decidedly mixed reviews -- Kerry buried consideration of the plan as his campaign weighed other options for continuing what has been a record-breaking period of fundraising by a Democratic presidential candidate.

Although many Kerry loyalists lined up behind the idea, other Democrats expressed fears that it would create a controversy that might have dominated the convention and led to diminished coverage, particularly by the major broadcast television networks.

-- Dan Balz