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Bush works to rally US public on Iraq

With support running low, he has launched a two-week series of addresses on the war.

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Amid a two-week stretch of major speeches on Iraq, aimed at shoring up flagging US public support, President Bush faces a monumental task: He must project hope about prospects for building a stable and democratic Iraq, analysts say, while at the same time appearing connected to reality, as US casualties mount in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

When the president delivers remarks Wednesday to a National Guard audience in Nampa, Idaho, he will echo familiar recent themes: "Now we must finish the task that our troops have given their lives for and honor their sacrifice by completing their mission," he concluded in his most recent radio address.

Most noteworthy in Mr. Bush's speech Monday was a rare mention of specific numbers of US service members who have died in both the Iraqi and Afghan operations. In a punctuation point to the day's events, the number of US military deaths in Iraq ended the day at 1,869, five more than the figure Bush had named just that afternoon.

"It's smart to name numbers, because then it seems he does know what's happening there," says John Mueller, a political scientist at Ohio State University in Columbus, who contrasts Bush's pitch with the failed effort of his father, the first President Bush, to convince Americans he understood their economic pain.

But speaking of the current president, Professor Mueller says, "It's basically difficult to see that he can do very much of anything" to change public opinion. "What matters is what's happening in Iraq," he says.

By some measures, US public opinion on Iraq has held relatively stable of late, albeit with a majority unhappy with US involvement. For Bush, the good news is that he retains support among fellow Republicans; the bad news is that he's losing independents, who formed the crucial margin of his election victory last November, according to polling expert Karlyn Bowman of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

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