WASHINGTON - President Bush said yesterday that the United States is making progress on meeting the political and security challenges in Iraq, and he urged European allies to put aside their differences with Washington and work to end the Iraqi insurgency.
"It's an important signal for people to hear loud and clear," Bush said. "There may have been past differences over Iraq, but as we move forward there is a need for the world to work together so that Iraq's democracy will succeed."
The president spoke to a group of reporters that included a large European contingent, but his comments appeared to be intended in part to reassure Americans that the U.S. mission in Iraq is still justified, despite the growing casualty count caused by the continuing suicide bombings and other attacks by insurgents.
The U.S. military death toll in Iraq has climbed to more than 1,700, and the number of civilians killed there is far higher.
Recent opinion polls indicate that fewer and fewer Americans think the 2003 invasion to remove Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do.
Before Bush spoke yesterday, suicide bombers killed 36 people in four Iraqi cities, including 13 Iraqi police officers in the northern city of Irbil.
"I think about this every single day, every single day, and will continue thinking about it, because I understand we've got kids in harm's way. I worry about their families, and ... any time there's a death, I grieve," Bush said.
"But I want those families to know ... we will complete the mission, and the world will be better off for it."
Bush said Iraq's interim government is making progress toward establishing a fledgling democracy and that fresh assessments from U.S. commanders indicate that Iraqi forces are becoming more capable of assuming responsibility for the nation's security.
Bush, whose Iraq policy was opposed by France, Germany and other EU members, noted as a sign of reduced friction a U.S.-European conference to be held in Brussels, Belgium, this week to build international support for Iraq's reconstruction.
Although EU officials agreed that the United States and Europe are cooperating more closely and "working in the same direction" on Iraq, they indicated that differences remain on other issues.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said he hopes the United States and Europe can come to terms at a Group of 8 summit in Scotland on new steps to address global warming and aid to Africa.
The United States has not embraced some proposals favored by Europeans to increase development assistance to Africa.
"We are, together, promoting democracy and freedom. But every day 25,000 people die because they don't have enough to eat or they don't have clean water to drink," Barroso said. "This is really a shame for our generation, and you cannot accept it as a kind of natural order of things. It is not natural."
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.