Hoping to bolster sagging public support for the Iraq war, President Bush told a national TV audience that terrorists and insurgents could "feel a tightening noose," after the relatively peaceful Iraqi elections on December 15.
"This election will not mean the end of violence," said Bush. "But it is the beginning of something new -- constitutional democracy at the heart of the Middle East."
The president stated that he understood the doubts many Americans had about the costs and direction of the war. "Some look at the challenges in Iraq, and conclude that the war is lost, and not worth another dime or another day," he said. "I don't believe that. Our military commanders don't believe that."
"Not even the terrorists believe it," continued the president. "We know from their own communications that they feel a tightening noose -- and fear the rise of a democratic Iraq."
Bush urged Americans not to "give in to despair, and to focus on the steady gains made by U.S. and Iraqi forces over the three year course of the war.
Bush went on to warn Americans of the risks involved in withdrawing from Iraq, "before our work is done."
"We would abandon our Iraqi friends -- and signal to the world that America cannot be trusted to keep its word," he said. "We would hand Iraq over to enemies who have pledged to attack us -- and the global terrorist movement would be emboldened and more dangerous than ever before."
Last week, the U.S. command in Iraq indicated that a U.S. troop levels in Iraq would probably be reduced from 162,000 to about 138,000 by early February, 2006, contingent on a demonstrated ability of U.S.-trained Iraqi troops to defend the nation from insurgents.
Through the end of November, approximately 2,138 active duty US troops had been reported killed and other 15,955 wounded in Iraq.
The President's remarks tonight largely reiterated the points he made in a December 13 White House "Fact Sheet" in which he referred to "Iraq's incredible political transformation" since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
"Two and a half years ago, Iraq was in the grip of a cruel dictator," stated the Fact Sheet. "Since then, Iraqis have assumed sovereignty of their country, held free elections, drafted a democratic constitution, and approved that constitution in a nationwide referendum. In three days, they will go to the polls for the third time this year and choose a new government under their new constitution. Difficult work remains, but 2005 will be recorded as a turning point in the history of Iraq, the Middle East, and freedom." [White House Transcript of Speech]