- The Washington Times - Friday, March 10, 2006

President Bush will wage a public relations offensive to defend progress in Iraq and explain U.S. goals and strategies as a way to mark the three-year anniversary of the war to oust Saddam Hussein.

The speeches come at a time when violence has increased after the bombing of a Shi’ite mosque and reprisal executions, and some analysts have suggested Iraq is teetering on the brink of civil war.

“We can fully understand and appreciate why the public is anxious,” said a senior administration official, who added that recent weeks “have been very unsettling.”

But the official, speaking to reporters on the condition of anonymity, said Mr. Bush will argue that the fact that Iraq has not devolved into a civil war is a success story in itself because it shows a commitment to a successful state.

“We saw a government instill a curfew, enforce a curfew, start organizing and coordinating key messages … that helped calm the situation, relatively speaking,” the official said. “We have seen a government act in a very trying moment in a fairly competent way.”

The upcoming speeches come as the nation prepares to mark the anniversary of the March 20, 2003, invasion, and Mr. Bush’s declaration on May 1 of that year that the mission in Iraq had been accomplished.

Mr. Bush will not call for a change in strategy, and is not planning on laying out a schedule for troop withdrawal, and the official said recent events prove the wisdom of that course.

“I think when you see developments of the last two weeks, I think it can demonstrate how risky such a strategy can be to set the timetables and markers out there that could be planned for and attacked around by the enemy,” the official said.

The official said plans for the speeches began in early- to mid February, before the mosque bombing.

The president, asked about the violence yesterday at a meeting of newspaper executives, said there were good signs in the aftermath of the bombing.

“The society took a step back from the abyss, and people took a sober reflection about what a civil war would mean,” Mr. Bush said.

In the first speech on Monday, the president will give an update on the training of Iraqi security forces and talk about the technological arms race U.S. forces are waging with the terrorists over improvised explosive devices.

The official said to expect Mr. Bush to give different case studies, including one on Monday about successes in the Mosul region.

White House officials think a similar set of speeches in December helped boost public understanding and, more concretely, poll numbers, and want to try again.

Those earlier speeches came after top Democrats called for a timetable for or, in some cases, immediate beginning of withdrawal of troops. At that time, Mr. Bush made it clear he wouldn’t draw down troops until Iraqi security forces were ready to replace them.

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