Bush sets target for transition in Iraq

President Bush vowed for the first time yesterday to turn over most of Iraq to newly trained Iraqi troops by the end of this year, setting a specific benchmark as he kicked off a fresh drive to reassure Americans alarmed by the recent burst of sectarian violence.

Bush, who until now has resisted concrete timelines as the Iraq war dragged on longer than he expected, outlined the target in the first of a series of speeches intended to lay out his strategy for victory. While acknowledging grim developments on the ground, Bush declared "real progress" in standing up Iraqi forces capable of defending their nation.

"As more capable Iraqi police and soldiers come on line, they will assume responsibility for more territory with the goal of having the Iraqis control more territory than the coalition by the end of 2006," he said in a speech to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "And as Iraqis take over more territory, this frees American and coalition forces to concentrate on training and on hunting down high-value targets like the terrorist [Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi and his associates."

The president made no commitments about withdrawing U.S. troops, but he repeated his general formula that Americans could come home as Iraqis eventually take over the fight. He also used the speech to urge Iraqis to form a unity government three months after parliamentary elections, and he accused Iran of providing explosives to Shiite militias attacking U.S. forces in Iraq.

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