President Bush said Friday that sectarian murders have dropped by half in Baghdad since the U.S.-Iraqi military buildup began in February, rejecting a Democratic leader's claim that the war is lost.
"These operations are having an important effect on this young democracy," Bush said in a speech on terrorism, his second in two days. "They're showing Iraqi citizens across the country that there will be no sanctuary for killers anywhere in a free Iraq."
Bush said he continues to believe that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is committed to peace and reconciliation. At the same time, he said the U.S. military commitment in Iraq is not-open ended.
"Iraqis must not give in to al-Qaida if they want a peaceful society," he said.
Bush spoke at a high school to about 500 students and members of the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan. He urged Americans not to be swayed by the violence inflicted by suicide bombers. He said Wednesday's carnage, in which four large bombs exploded in mostly Shiite areas of Baghdad and killed 230 people, had all the "hallmarks of an al-Qaida attack."
It was the deadliest day in the city since the mid-February start of the U.S.-Iraqi campaign to reduce violence in the capital and Anbar Province, a stronghold for Sunni insurgents.
"Anbar province is still not safe," Bush said.
Pushing back against Democrats, Bush said that not all the troops that he ordered in January in a military buildup have arrived. It's too early to assume defeat, he said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., says the war in Iraq is "lost" and can only be won through political and economic diplomatic means. He said the surge is not accomplishing anything. Republicans have pounced on Reid for his comments, accusing him of turning his back on the troops and hurting military morale in Iraq.
Bush declined to take the gloves off.
"I respect the Democratic leadership," he said. "We have fundamental disagreements about whether or not helping this young democracy is, you know - the consequences of failure or success, let's put it this way."
In past addresses, Bush has worked to paint a rose-colored picture of progress in Iraq. This time, he showed maps and photographs of destruction and acknowledged that tough challenges remain.
In recent days, Defense Secretary Robert Gates pressed al-Maliki to do more, and do it faster, to end sectarian strife. Navy Adm. William Fallon, chief of the U.S. Central Command, said Baghdad security has improved a bit but he, too, said Iraqis need to find a way to bring minority Sunnis, who ruled during Saddam Hussein's regime, fully into the government led by majority Shiites.
After the speech, Bush made an unscheduled stop at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, where the former president was buried in January. He laid a bouquet of white roses on a stone wall that marks Ford's grave and paused there for a few moments.