ANNAPOLIS, United States (AFP) -US President George W. Bush was to unveil a "strategy for victory in Iraq", hoping to convince a skeptical US public two and a half years after the war began that he has a plan to end it.
He was to unveil the blueprint at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, at a time when his poll numbers have sunk to their lowest ever and more and more Americans want him to chart a course for a quick US withdrawal.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Tuesday that the speech, the first in a series of appeals for support ahead of Iraq”s December 15 elections, would center on efforts to train Iraqi security forces to replace US soldiers.
McClellan said that the Pentagon hoped to have enough self-sufficient Iraqi troops to draw down the US presence in the war-torn country in 2006 — raising the possibility of troop reductions ahead of the November 2006 US elections, over which the increasingly unpopular war looms large.
Bush, who has rejected any timetable for a withdrawal, said Tuesday: "The people dont want me making decisions based upon politics; they want me to make decisions based upon the recommendation from our generals on the ground."
"Weve heard some people say, pull them out right now. That”s a huge mistake. Itd be a terrible mistake. It sends a bad message to our troops, and it sends a bad message to our enemy, and it sends a bad message to the Iraqis," he said on a swing through El Paso, Texas, to talk about security along the border with Mexico.
The New York Times Wednesday quoted US military officials in Iraq as saying they planned to seek 3.9 billion dollars for next year to better train and equip Iraqi troops, build new police stations and outfit Iraqi soldiers with new uniforms.
The amount, said the daily, would come on top of the 10.6 billion dollars that the US Congress has already approved to rebuild Iraq”s security forces.
In the Annapolis speech, "The president will argue against setting arbitrary timetables or a precipitous withdrawal," McClellan told reporters traveling with the president to El Paso and Denver, Colorado.
"In 2006, I think, you know, the expectation is that conditions will be changing on the ground. Weve been making real progress with the training of Iraqi security forces and conditions that will permit us to be able to reduce our presence," said the spokesman.
"But, again, it will always be based on conditions on the ground," he said, in a restatement of longstanding White House policy on the matter.
The White House was also to release a "national strategy for victory in Iraq," which McClellan described as "an unclassified version of the plan that weve been pursuing in Iraq."
There are currently some 159,000 US troops there, and some 2,100 have been killed since Bush launched the March 2003 invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, most in the bloody insurgency that followed.
Recent polls have shown that a majority of the US public opposes the war, and a sizeable number say they no longer view Bush as trustworthy.
In another sign of a gradual drawdown, the White House said Saturday that Democratic Senator Joseph Biden”s proposed plan for a 50,000 troop reduction next year was "remarkably similar" to its own.
And US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters Tuesday that the number of US troops in Iraq would be cut back to around 138,000 after the December 15 elections and remain there until local forces are up to the task.
The Bush administration, which once characterized the bloody insurgency in Iraq as a few "dead-enders" unhappy that Saddam was gone, has repeatedly warned of a rise in violence as the vote approaches.
Still, they say, building a democracy in Iraq will pacify the country, inspire reformers, and dispirit Islamist extremists like those who carried out the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
But many observers of the US military have said Washington has put too much of a strain on the all-volunteer force and said the deployment in Iraq is unsustainable at current levels.