Local Time

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Bush says Iraq and Lebanon fragile democracies

Sat Aug 19, 2006 11:22 AM ET

By Jeremy Pelofsky
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Iraq and Lebanon remain fragile democracies, and security in the United States depends on democracy taking hold in the Middle East, President Bush said on Saturday

With U.S. public doubts rising over the Iraq war in a congressional-election year and his Middle East strategy challenged by 34 days of Israeli-Hizbollah fighting in Lebanon, Bush conferred this week with his national-security and counterterrorism teams and received an update from U.S. commanders in Iraq.

U.S. officials have said sectarian violence in Iraq could lead to civil war.

The New York Times this week quoted an unnamed military- affairs expert who was briefed at the White House last month as saying senior administration officials acknowledged that they are "considering alternatives other than democracy" in Iraq, which the White House denied.

"These young democracies are still fragile, and the forces of terror are seeking to stop liberty's advance and steer newly free nations to the path of radicalism," Bush said in his weekly radio address.

"The way forward will be difficult, and it will require sacrifice and resolve," he said. "But America's security depends on liberty's advance in this troubled region, and we can be confident of the outcome because we know the unstoppable power of freedom."

More than 2,600 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Bush has vowed not to withdraw prematurely, despite pressure from Democrats to begin bringing troops home this year and switch the effort to counterterrorism and supporting Iraqi forces.

Pennsylvania congressional candidate Joe Sestak delivered the Democratic radio address as the party seeks to recapture Congress from the president's Republicans. Sestak, a former career Navy officer, said Bush's Iraq policies undermined U.S. security.

"We must begin a phased redeployment of our forces so that we are prepared to face the security challenges we have worldwide," Sestak said.

"The fact is, we are fostering a culture of dependence in Iraq. Iraqi leaders must be responsible for their own country. They must make the difficult political compromises that will stop the civil war and bring about stability. We cannot do this work for them," said Sestak, who is running against Republican Rep. Curt Weldon.

In Lebanon, the United States has ruled out offering troops to help enforce a cease-fire along the border with Israel after fighting there with Hizbollah guerrillas, but instead has pledged financial and other support.

The United Nations hopes to send 3,500 troops within two weeks to oversee the truce and withdrawal of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon after more than a month of fighting that erupted after Hizbollah crossed the border and captured two Israeli soldiers.

"This force will help Lebanon's legitimate armed forces restore the sovereignty of its democratic government over all Lebanese territory and stop Hizbollah from acting as a state within a state," Bush said.

(additional reporting by Caroline Drees)

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