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Bush accuses Iran of meddling in Iraq, but touts progress

WASHINGTON—President Bush ratcheted up pressure on Iran on Monday, accusing it of disrupting Iraq by giving insurgents deadly explosive devices.

In the first of a series of speeches aimed at stemming public opposition to the war and bolstering his low approval ratings, Bush said that some of the most powerful "improvised explosive devices" in Iraq contained "components that came from Iran. ... "

"Coalition forces have seized IEDs and components that were clearly produced in Iran," Bush said in an address at George Washington University. "Such actions—along with Iran's support for terrorism and its pursuit of nuclear weapons—are increasingly isolating Iran, and America will continue to rally the world to confront these threats."

The United States and its allies are trying to prevent the Tehran government from pursuing its nuclear program by taking the matter before the United Nations Security Council.

Apart from his swipe at Iran, Bush painted a picture of progress in Iraq, one week before the third anniversary of the U.S. invasion. Bush hailed Iraqis for pulling back from the brink of civil war following last month's bombing of a mosque in Samarra, and he credited Iraqi security forces with suppressing violence.

"The situation in Iraq is still tense, and we're still seeing acts of sectarian violence and reprisal," he said. "Yet, out of this crisis, we've also seen signs of a hopeful future."

Bush said that Iraqi forces are increasingly taking the lead in securing their country, with more than 130 military and police battalions deployed and more than 60 of them able to take the lead in operations. That's up from 120 Iraqi military and police combat battalions last year, of which only 40 were able to take the lead, Bush said.

The president acknowledged the toll that IEDs take, but trumpeted progress on that front, too: Tips from Iraqi citizens are growing, to more than 4,000 in December from only 400 last March, he said. Such tips led coalition forces to find nearly 4,000 IEDs over the past six months, and two weeks ago, Iraq and coalition forces found a bomb-making facility northeast of Fallujah and captured 61 people, he said.

Bush's positive talk omitted some harsh realities, one expert said.

Anthony H. Cordesman, an analyst for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a conservative think tank, said that while coalition forces may be getting more tips from citizens, the number of insurgent attacks has increased and "the percentage of successful attacks has not gone down."

"You've had a number of successful attacks that make it difficult for the U.S. to move around," Cordesman said.

The analyst also said that while Iraqi and coalition forces are effective in combat, their efforts are often compromised by unreliable Iraqi police and security forces. "The army can win, and the police and Iraqi government can't provide lasting security," Cordesman said.

The police are controlled by Iraq's interior ministry. Shiite militias are believed to have infiltrated the ministry, and Sunnis assert that the militias operate death squads against them. Meanwhile, the majority Shiite population is increasingly enraged by car bombs that have killed thousands in Shiite neighborhoods.

In the north, the Kurdish militia has stocked Iraqi army units with thousands of loyalists.

Monday's speech was the first of three that Bush intends to give this month on Iraq, the issue on which he's staked his presidency. Polls show that Americans are turning against the war: Some 52 percent of Americans believe the U.S. should begin withdrawing troops from Iraq, a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll reported. Nine months ago, only 38 percent supported U.S. withdrawal.

The war is also dragging down Bush's popularity, as his job-approval rating now ranges from the mid-30s to the mid-40s in polls.

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(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Tom Lasseter contributed from Baghdad, Iraq).

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Iraq

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