- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 14, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Bush said yesterday that significant progress has been made in the U.S. military’s assault on the Iraqi city of Fallujah, an insurgent stronghold.

In his weekly radio address, Mr. Bush praised the assault. U.S. military officials said yesterday that American troops had occupied all of Fallujah, but the insurgency in the city had not been entirely subdued. The fighting has taken at least 24 American lives and wounded about 170 U.S. troops, and now has spread to other Sunni Muslim areas of Iraq.

“[American forces] are taking back the city, clearing mosques of weapons and explosives stockpiled by insurgents and restoring order for law-abiding citizens,” Mr. Bush said in his broadcast.

He said “support continues to grow” internationally for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, even though the multinational force will see some reductions in the coming months.

While the largest members of Mr. Bush’s “coalition of the willing” — Britain with 8,500 troops and Italy with 3,000 — are standing firm, Hungary says it will not keep its 300 troops in Iraq beyond March 31, 2005, the Czech Republic plans to pull out its soldiers by the end of February, and Dutch forces will leave soon afterward.

Denmark, meanwhile, says its 501 troops in the southern Iraqi city of Basra will stay as long as needed, and Romania is considering bolstering its 730-member force for the elections. Georgia is also boosting its troop deployment from 159 to 850.

The president also hailed the effort to train and equip Iraqi personnel to take over security for their country. He said nearly 115,000 Iraqi soldiers, police officers and other security personnel are now on duty and that 200,000 will be in place by the end of the year.

“Ultimately, Iraq must be able to defend itself, and Iraqi security forces are taking increasing responsibility for their country’s security,” Mr. Bush said.

Increasing the ranks of U.S.-trained Iraqi troops is important for a number of reasons. Chiefly, getting that number up increases the likelihood of the Pentagon being able to reduce the number of American troops in Iraq after elections there in January.

There are about 142,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, up several thousand from a few weeks ago.

Some doubts have been raised about the reliability of Iraqi security forces. For instance, the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, said recently that many Iraqis have been insufficiently trained and equipped. In some instances, the only “training” required of new policemen was that they wear a uniform, the report found.

Also, Mr. Bush spent Friday evening at the home of Clay Johnson, a college friend and administration official who has a hand in shaping Mr. Bush’s second-term Cabinet.

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