updated 8/13/2005 10:41:22 AM ET 2005-08-13T14:41:22

With Iraq’s parliament facing a Monday deadline to approve a new constitution, President Bush said Saturday that the document “is a critical step on the path to Iraqi self-reliance.”

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Bush used his weekly radio address to highlight political progress in Iraq, even as daily violence continues to take the lives of citizens and the U.S. forces occupying the country.

“Iraqis are taking control of their country, building a free nation that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself,” the president said. “And we’re helping Iraqis succeed. We’re hunting down the terrorists and training the security forces of a free Iraq so Iraqis can defend their own country.”

Bush taped the radio address from his Texas ranch, where he is spending five weeks on a summer break from the White House. On Thursday, his foreign and defense advisers met him there to discuss Iraq and other international issues.

Defiant protest
Outside the ranch, Cindy Sheehan of Vacaville, Calif., waited defiantly for Bush to come out and explain why her son lost his life while fighting for the U.S. Army in Iraq. Dozens of other protesters traveled from across the country to join her throughout the week.

More than 100 Bush supporters held a rally Friday night across the road from the makeshift campsite of the anti-war demonstrators. Authorities kept the two groups separated.

Bush told reporters Thursday that while he sympathized with the pain of those who lost loved ones and heard their cries to bring the troops home, he will keep U.S. forces in Iraq until there is a stable democracy that can be protected by Iraqi security forces.

“When that mission of defeating the terrorists in Iraq is complete, our troops will come home to a proud and grateful nation,” he said in the radio address.

More that 1,800 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since the beginning of the war. Bush said the nation grieves every death but can be confident that the military is bringing freedom to people who have lived under tyranny.

“Withdrawing our troops from Iraq prematurely would betray the Iraqi people, and would cause others to question America’s commitment to spreading freedom and winning the war on terror,” he said. “So we will honor the fallen by completing the mission for which they gave their lives, and by doing so we will ensure that freedom and peace prevail.”

Looming deadline
Bush said Thursday he saw no reason why the draft constitution should not be approved by Monday. However, he recognized there are still disputes over federalism and the role of religion in the government.

The constitution approved by parliament is to be put to the voters in a referendum Oct. 15.

“Despite the acts of violence by the enemies of freedom, Iraq’s elected leaders are now finishing work on a democratic constitution,” Bush said in the radio address. “Later this year, that constitution will be put before the Iraqi people for their approval. The establishment of a democratic constitution is a critical step on the path to Iraqi self-reliance.”

Although Bush kept busy during his first two weeks at the ranch with travel and meetings to highlight his legislative accomplishments, he has no events planned for next week. He was scheduled to attend a Little League regional championship baseball game Saturday evening in nearby Waco, while anti-war activists planned a noontime rally in Crawford.

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