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How 'pushback' plays for Bush on Iraq

Administration vows 'no retreat' this week, as casualty count raises concern.

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If every week in the presidency has a theme, this could be called "pushback week."

First, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice gave speeches urging patience on Iraq. Then President Bush drove the message home on Tuesday with a speech to veterans at the American Legion convention. He didn't answer all the critiques - such as complaints that he needs to send more troops and commit more funds to reconstruction - but offered instead a broad-brush pep talk vowing "no retreat."

Democrats, and some Republicans, have become increasingly vocal in criticizing the Iraq venture, as polls begin to show growing concerns about long-term US involvement in Iraq. In addition, Bush faced an uncomfortable symbolic milestone early this week: US military deaths in Iraq since the end of major combat surpassed those before Bush's May 1 declaration.

For the short term, Bush appears to be holding his own. The same opinion polls that show potential long-term public concerns on Iraq also show support holding steady for the US effort, even after last week's bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad. In an ABC News poll released Monday, 56 percent approved of the Bush's handling of Iraq, the same level as in July. But according to a Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll, Bush's presidential leadership index has fallen from 69.4 in April, at the beginning of the Iraq conflict, to 58.0 this month.

'A precarious spot'

Indeed, the long term for Bush appears murky, and raises a crucial political question as the 2004 campaign heats up: Can he keep the public with him on Iraq for the long haul? The steady pace of American casualties shows no sign of abating. Sensing Bush's potential vulnerability on Iraq, the Democratic presidential candidates will become only more vocal, analysts say.


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