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Essay title: Bob

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush, facing waning public support for Iraq war, said on Wednesday Iraqi troops are taking a bigger role against the Iraqi insurgency and offered hope U.S. troops could come home.


The White House said Bush would take on critics of the Iraq war in a speech on Thursday in Washington before the National Endowment for Democracy.

Bush emerged from a White House war council with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Gen. Peter Pace, new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and U.S. Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, to claim progress in the training of Iraqi troops, which he calls a prerequisite to a U.S. pullout.

But he offered no timetable.

A CNN/Gallup/USA Today poll last month said only 32 percent of Americans approved of Bush's handling of the war, which he launched in 2003 citing the threat of weapons of mass destruction possessed by Saddam Hussein's government. Such weapons were never found.

"Over 30 percent of the Iraqi troops are in the lead on these offensive operations. We've got troops embedded with them, and that's an important part of the training mission. But nevertheless, the Iraqis are showing more and more capability to take the fight to the enemy," Bush said on the steps of the White House Rose Garden.

There are persistent questions about the quality of the trained Iraqi forces and the degree to which they have been infiltrated by insurgents. Senior U.S. generals said last week that the number of Iraqi battalions able to fight last week without help from American forces had shrunk to one, from three in July.

As part of this stepped-up focus on the Iraq war after concentrating

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