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President Bush determined to persevere in Iraq 4 years after invasion

WASHINGTON &

With Democrats pushing for an end to the Iraq war now entering its fifth year, President Bush pleaded for more patience today, saying success is possible but "will take months, not days or weeks."

The war has stretched longer, with higher costs, than the White House ever predicted. On the fourth anniversary of the day Bush directed the invasion to begin, the president made a televised statement from the White House Roosevelt Room to defend continued U.S. involvement.

He said his plan to send 21,500 additional U.S. troops to secure Baghdad and Iraq's troubled Anbar Province "will need more time to take effect," especially since fewer than half of the troop reinforcements have yet arrived in the capital. Bush added: "There will be good days and bad days ahead as the security plan unfolds."

Democrats are bringing up this week in the House a war spending bill that would effectively require the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by the fall of 2008, on top of providing funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the year. The White House has been pushing aggressively against this legislation, and Bush did so again today.

"It can be tempting to look at the challenges in Iraq and conclude our best option is to pack up and go home," he said. "That may be satisfying in the short run. But I believe the consequences for America's security would be devastating."

He said he had received news of positive signs during a morning briefing on the war with his National Security Council, and during a closed-circuit television conference call with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki from Baghdad.

Bush ridiculed House Democrats' legislation to remove troops, a measure he has promised to veto because it contains a timeline. He called it an abdication of U.S. commitments to Iraqis.

"There's a lot more work to be done and Iraq's leaders must continue to work to meet the benchmarks they have set forward," he said. "As Iraqis work to meet their commitments, we have important commitments of our own."

The House's war spending bill includes a troop withdrawal deadline of Sept. 1, 2008. The timeline would speed up if the Iraqi government cannot meet its own benchmarks for providing security, allocating oil revenues and other essential steps.

Democrats "have a responsibility to ensure that this bill provides the funds and the flexibility that our troops need to accomplish their mission," the president said."They have a responsibility to pass a clean bill that does not use funding for our troops as leverage to get special interest spending for their district. And they have a responsibility to get this bill to my desk without strings and without delay."

But Democratic lawmakers argue that the public voted in November to place them in charge of Congress to demand more progress in Iraq &

and to start getting the U.S. troops out.

The House plan appears to have little chance of getting through the Senate, where Democrats have a slimmer majority. The White House wants to stop it anyway, fearful of the message the world will hear if the House approves a binding bill to end the war.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday the House bill could make it impossible for military commanders to do their work.

Congressional Democrats, put in power in large part because of anti-war public sentiment, are trying to use their power of the purse to force action. So far, Iraq's leadership is struggling to meet the major benchmarks that it has pledged to the United States.

The impending House vote concerns a $124 billion spending bill, $95.5 billion of which is targeted for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some of the other money is for unrelated domestic programs, which also has angered the White House.

Entering its fifth year, the war has claimed the lives of more than 3,200 members of the U.S. military.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice earlier Monday staunchly defended going to war but acknowledged the administration should have sent more troops initially to quell the civil strife following the invasion.

Asked on CBS's "The Early Show" to say what the administration could have done better, she said that, early on, officials "might have looked to a more localized, more decentralized approach to reconstruction.

"... And I do believe that the kind of counterinsurgency strategy in which Gen. (David) Petraeus is now pursuing, in which we have enough forces to clear an area and hold it, so that building and governance can emerge, is the best strategy. And that probably was not pursued in the very beginning."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a persistent critic of the war strategy but a supporter of the war itself, has repeatedly complained that not enough U.S. troops were placed on the ground in the weeks and months following the March 2003 invasion.

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., also appearing on CBS, maintained that "the only way you end sectarian violence is to occupy a country or have a decentralized government.

"You've got to give these people (the Sunnis, Shia and Kurds) breathing room like we did in Bosnia," Biden said. "You've got to separate these people. This is a failed strategy."