EAST GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — President Bush said Friday that sectarian killings 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."
Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who chairs the Armed Services Committee, on Friday seconded Reid. Levin said he agrees the military fight in Iraq cannot be won and that Bush's strategy lacks the necessary leverage to force Iraqi politicians to reach a settlement.
Bush "doesn't have the teeth," Levin told reporters in a conference call. "He doesn't have the pressure on the Iraqi leaders by just repeating, which he's done now for a month, that our patience is not unlimited."
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said the United States needs to send a clear message to the Iraqi government that American troops won't stay there indefinitely.
Klobuchar, who visited Baghdad and Fallujah last month, said the best thing America can do for its troops is to get its Iraq policy right.
"This means, as recommended by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, that we begin the process of redeploying our troops with the goal of withdrawing combat forces by next year," she said in remarks prepared for broadcast Saturday following the president's weekly radio address.
Klobuchar said it might be necessary for some troops to stay in Iraq to train Iraqi police, to provide security for American forces that remain behind, and to conduct special operations.
"This means not a surge in troops but a surge in diplomacy, economy and Iraqi responsibility," she said.
While the president's radio address and the Democratic response air on Saturday mornings, both the White House and Klobuchar's office released their texts Friday. Bush's radio topic is the shootings at Virginia Tech.
In past addresses about the war, Bush has worked to paint a rose-colored picture of progress in Iraq. This time, in his speech in Michigan, 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.