Bush gives upbeat assessment on Iraq

November 03, 2007|By James Gerstenzang | James Gerstenzang,Los Angeles Times

FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Seizing on the decline in civilian and U.S. military deaths in Iraq, President Bush delivered an upbeat assessment of the war's progress yesterday, citing both the drop in violence and greater Iraqi control of restive provinces.

But he conceded that corruption remains a problem, unemployment is high and economic improvement is spotty at best.

"Slowly but surely, the people of Iraq are reclaiming a normal society," he told a cheering crowd of 1,300 soldiers who had just completed the Army's nine-week basic combat training course.

The visit began with the festive graduation on a parade ground, the young, just-trained privates and their drill sergeants marching in review before the president. It ended at the Chaplain Center and School, where Bush met privately with the families of nine soldiers and three Marines who died in Iraq.

At the graduation ceremony, the president said that, since the troop buildup reached full strength in June, the number of roadside bombs had been cut in half. He said U.S. military deaths were at their lowest in 19 months and Iraqi forces were in charge of security in eight of Iraq's 18 provinces.

He acknowledged that, at the top of the Iraqi political spectrum, reconciliation "hasn't been what we hoped it'd been by now," the parliament has not passed key legislation and "political factions still are failing to make necessary compromises."

But he said "reconciliation is taking place at the local level."

He mentioned examples of Sunni and Shiite Muslim sheiks working together in Anbar and Karbala provinces and tribal groups cooperating in Diyala province, and he said that, "given time and space, the normal Iraqi will take the necessary steps to ... fight for a free society."

While the White House sees better security as the first of anticipated payoffs from the troop increase Bush announced in January, Bush did not specifically equate the improvements he cited with the 30,000 additional troops.

James Gerstenzang writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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