President Bush is trying to calm anxieties about rising casualties and spreading violence in Iraq by promising to cede political power to an interim government of Iraqis on June 30, which the president insists will put that country firmly on a path to democracy.
In a Monday night speech, Bush will lay out details of the transfer at a time when his approval ratings are at the lowest level of his presidency and just six months before he faces the verdict of American voters on a second term.
Of all the difficulties that plague the Bush administration's efforts in Iraq, experts say the biggest one is how to turn over political power to Iraqis without plunging their country into chaos.
Some experts say Bush needs to act boldly, perhaps increasing the number of troops in Iraq and moving up the date for elections scheduled for next year.
"The problem is we have failed to win fast enough," said Tom Donnelly, a national defense and security expert at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research organization.
"The belief that people used to have that George Bush was the right kind of guy to lead the country in time of war is slipping," and "the need to do something pretty significant is pretty great," Donnelly said.
Bush, in the speech at the Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pa., will describe "what steps we are taking and how we intend to get there to 2005 and the elections" in Iraq, spokeswoman Suzy DeFrancis said. It is the first in a series of speeches in which Bush will detail the transfer of political control in Iraq.
"I think we need to hear from the president a comprehensive strategy for success. I think that's one thing the American people feel has been lacking," Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., told ABC's "This Week."
While some lawmakers advocated an increase in the U.S. military presence in Iraq to smooth the transition, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said he wants to see a military transfer come soon.
"It's time to put some weight on the shoulders of the Iraqi military," Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., told NBC's "Meet the Press."
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chided the president for failing to offer concrete plans earlier. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said he wants to hear Monday night "precisely what is going to happen ... as opposed to a generalization."
The handover will be center stage against a backdrop of bad news for Bush.
A recent poll by the Gallup organization showed the president's approval rating at 46 percent. All surveys show him in a tight race with Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic candidate. A week ago, Newsweek's poll rated Bush's job approval at 42 percent, the lowest of his presidency. Public opinion specialists have attributed the plummet to the frustrations of Iraq.
"We have a lot of trouble. Everybody knows that," said Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y, on "Fox News Sunday" "And, you know, my hope is that we can work our way out of the trouble we're in, and much of it depends upon the choices that are made starting on June 30."
Abuse of inmates at a U.S.-run prison outside Baghdad has overshadowed the administration's message of a free and democratic Iraq and has provoked outrage in the Arab world.
Emergence of an interim government will follow recent polling data that showed 82 percent of Iraqis disapprove of the U.S. occupation force. Despite that resentment, the White House maintains a great majority of Iraqis want coalition forces in place to secure the country.
The administration already has decided on the central theme of its plan, which will declare that the June 30 handover will be substantive. Some critics suggest it will be merely symbolic, their skepticism based on the failure to have named an interim government this close to the deadline.
Lakhdar Brahimi, an envoy from the United Nations (news - web sites), is to come up with proposals for a prime minister, president, two vice presidents and the heads of 26 ministries.
"Some very serious thinking needs to be done about how the U.S. can, from here on, help Iraq, help Iraqis to regain sovereignty, and help Iraq to move to January 2005, which is the big date for Iraqi elections," Iraq's top representative in the United States, Rend Rahim Francke, said Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition." "We need to meet that date."
In a sign of progress, Secretary of State Colin Powell (news - web sites) said, 11 ministries already have been turned over to Iraq cabinet ministers.
The extent of the caretaker government's powers also has been a subject of intense discussion among members of the U.N. Security Council. The United States plans to introduce on Monday its long-awaited U.N. resolution on issues raised by the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty, an American official said.
The U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss the draft resolution behind closed doors Monday morning, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
James Cunningham, the deputy U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, says the new resolution will not order an indefinite extension of the multinational force, but it won't propose a time limit either.
"We're going to be there no matter what," Gen. John Abizaid, commander of American troops in the Middle East, told Congress.
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