Progress Seen in Iraq Amid Election, Violence

WASHINGTON – Amid intensified attacks during post-election days in Iraq, President George Bush invited more than a dozen former secretaries of state and defense to the White House on Thursday for a give-and-take and briefing on Iraq.

Recognizing those who have criticized his Iraq strategy, Bush solicited views from participants who were almost evenly divided between Republican and Democratic administrations.

"We have a dual track strategy for victory," said Bush. "On the one hand, we will work to have a political process that says to all Iraqis, the future belongs to you. And on the other hand, we'll continue to work on the security situation there."

Violent bomb attacks surged after the peaceful December 2005 elections in Iraq. Deaths rose to 183 from insurgent attacks. The death toll for Thursday's insurgency was reported as 130, as Sunni politicians claimed fraud in the parliamentary voting. Shiite religious groups have taken a large stake in the new Iraqi government, with Sunnis demanding a re-vote. Experts on Iraq had expressed concerns over the dominating Shiite Islamists in parliament that could mean little protection for Iraqi Christians.

Nevertheless, Iraq has seen progress and political success with national elections, the drafting of a constitution and high voter turnouts, as Vice President Dick Cheney had noted.

"On the political track, every benchmark has been met successfully," he said Wednesday.

"Day after day, month after month, Iraqis have proven their determination to live in freedom, to chart their own destiny, and to defend their country. And they can know that the United States will keep our commitment to them."

The United States will be withdrawing some combat forces from Iraq and Afghanistan this year, Bush announced Wednesday at the Pentagon, noting the improved security and political developments in the countries. Further reductions in Iraq are possible, depending on the progress on security.

"The main thrust of our success will be when the Iraqis are able to take the fight to the enemy that wants to stop their democracy and we're making darn good progress along those lines," said Bush during Thursday's meeting.