President Bush yesterday said his strategy to send more troops to Iraq is turning the tide in favor of U.S. and Iraqi forces and rebutted claims by a top Democrat that the war is lost.
“The direction of the fight is beginning to shift,” Mr. Bush said in a speech at East Grand Rapids High School in Michigan. “Day by day, block by block, Iraqi and American forces are making incremental gains in Baghdad.”
The president’s speech, his second in two days on the war on terrorism, came one day after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters, “This war is lost and the surge is not accomplishing anything.”
The speech also came as Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who was in Baghdad, warned Iraqi political leaders that American patience is wearing thin.
“Our commitment to Iraq is long-term, but it is not a commitment to have our young men and women patrolling Iraq’s streets open-endedly,” Mr. Gates said.
On Thursday, Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, cited a series of five suicide bombings on Wednesday that killed more than 200 people as an example of why the war is lost.
Mr. Bush acknowledged the violence and said that since he began sending the first of about 30,000 reinforcements in January, “we have seen some of the highest casualty levels of the war.”
“And as the number of troops in Baghdad grows and operations move into even more dangerous neighborhoods, we can expect the pattern to continue,” he said.
But the president said coalition forces have reduced by 50 percent the sectarian murders by militias and death squads in Baghdad. He also said coalition troops are getting an increasing number of tips from the civilian population, which have helped them capture weapons, chemicals, and members of death squads and car-bomb rings.
“This is a difficult period in our nation’s history,” Mr. Bush said. “It’s natural to wish there was an easy way out, that we could just pack up and bring our troops home and be safe. Yet in Iraq, the easy road would be a road to disaster.
“The price of giving up there would be paid in American lives for years to come,” he said, arguing that terrorists in Iraq would attack U.S. targets if troops withdraw prematurely.
The president, for the first time in a speech on Iraq, used a handful of pictures and maps to illustrate his points.
To show the reduction of al Qaeda in the city of Ramadi, he showed before and after slides, claiming that cooperation from local sheiks has allowed the United States to almost completely eliminate terrorists and insurgents there over the last two months.
Mr. Bush also showed a picture of the carnage caused by the largest suicide bombing on Wednesday, which killed an estimated 140 people.
Mr. Reid responded to the president’s remarks with a speech of his own on the Senate floor, claiming that “the longer we continue down the president’s path, the further we will be from responsibly ending this war.”
Mr. Reid did not repeat his claim that the war is “lost,” a comment that prompted vigorous criticism from Republicans on Capitol Hill for the second straight day yesterday.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, called the comment “a mistake for the ages.”
But Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, said Mr. Reid’s words needed to be examined in a broader context.
“I think his larger point is that there’s no military solution here; there’s only a political solution, and there doesn’t appear to be any movement in that direction,” Mr. Levin said.
Mr. Bush and congressional Democrats are locked in a standoff over whether to include a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq in a $100 billion emergency war-spending bill. The president yesterday again called on Democrats to send him a bill without such a deadline.
But the Democratic leadership said it will keep pushing for an exit date, even if Mr. Bush vetoes the pending legislation.
The standoff threatens to stall war funds, even as the Pentagon begins raiding other military accounts to pay for the war until June.
Mr. Reid has advocated cutting off war funding if Mr. Bush follows through on his threat to veto the spending bill.
S.A. Miller contributed to this article.