President Bush yesterday blamed Iran for helping kill American troops in Iraq, saying they are supplying some of the ever-more-lethal explosives that insurgents are using against coalition forces.
"Tehran has been responsible for at least some of the increasing lethality of anti-coalition attacks by providing Shi'a militia with the capabilities to build improvised explosive devices in Iraq," Mr. Bush said, adding that troops have seized IEDs "that were clearly produced in Iran."
In the first of a planned series of speeches designed to steel Americans' resolve three years after the invasion of Iraq, Mr. Bush continued to build a case against neighboring Iran as a destabilizing force in the region.
The White House has planned two more speeches this month and at least one speech next month on U.S. policy in Iraq to serve as bookends to the third anniversary of the U.S. invasion on March 20.
Yesterday's speech at George Washington University, to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, was an update on the training of Iraqi security forces and a discussion of IEDs.
Democrats said the president is engaged in a public-relations campaign when he should be working on a strategy change.
"Instead of redoubling his efforts to help form the representative government in Iraq that is essential for defeating the insurgency and ending the sectarian violence, the president has launched another public-relations campaign here at home," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.
He challenged Mr. Bush's claim that Iraqi forces are better able to handle security. He pointed to Defense Department comments and reports that said the number of Iraqi units able to operate independently has dropped from three in September 2005 to zero last month.
But Mr. Bush said Iraqi forces now control 30,000 square miles, an increase of 20,000 square miles since the beginning of the year. He also said Iraqi military and police combat battalions have grown from 120 to 130, and the number ready to take the lead in operations went from 40 to more than 60.
He also said the sectarian violence that followed last month's bombing of the Shi'ite Golden Mosque in Samarra was meant "to provoke a civil war," but said Iraqis showed restraint and proved they want a stable state.
Meanwhile yesterday, a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll showed a public increasingly pessimistic about the Iraq war, with 60 percent saying they thought the war was going badly for the U.S., against just 38 percent who said it was going well, a drop from 46 percent in January.
The poll of 1,001 adults, taken from Friday to Sunday, also had 57 percent calling the March 2003 invasion a mistake. The survey had a margin of error of three percentage points.
Mr. Bush said troops are doing a better job of detecting and disabling IEDs before they can be detonated. He said that in the past 18 months, they have cut the casualty rate per attack in half. But the number of attempts has increased so much that the casualties from IEDs have gone up as well.
The government plans to spend $3.3 billion this year on efforts to defeat IEDs, and U.S. officials have waged a back-and-forth battle with the IED makers. Every time U.S. forces develop a new tactic, the insurgents have adapted, and Mr. Bush yesterday said he wouldn't talk about specifics for just that reason.
"Earlier this year, a newspaper published details of a new anti-IED technology that was being developed. Within five days of the publication, using details from that article, the enemy had posted instructions for defeating this new technology on the Internet," he said.
One deadly development has been "shaped" charges, designed to pierce armor.
British and U.S. military officials first charged last year that Iran was supplying IEDs to Iraqi militia, and last month, U.S. Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte told Congress that the militants' IEDs were similar to those used by Iran and Hezbollah.
Last year, U.S. officials stopped short of blaming Iran's government, but yesterday, Mr. Bush specifically blamed "Tehran."
Mr. Bush said yesterday that Iran is "increasingly isolated" because of the IEDs, the nation's support for terrorism and its nuclear ambitions.
"America will continue to rally the world to confront these threats," he said.
The administration has requested $75 million in the latest emergency spending bill to fund pro-democracy movements in Iran.