President Bush appealed to the nation in a prime time address on Iraq Thursday night -- his latest effort to buy time for his Iraq war strategy and shore up support among wavering Republicans and critical Democrats who have become increasingly frustrated with the lack of political progress and stability in Iraq.
The president framed the Iraq conflict as he has in the past, as a key component of a broader war against al Qaeda and Islamic extremists.
"Terrorists and extremists who are at war with us around the world are seeking to topple Iraq's government, dominate the region, and attack us here at home," Bush said in a televised, live address from the Oval Office in the White House.
"If Iraq's young democracy can turn back these enemies, it will mean a more hopeful Middle East and a more secure America ... our moral and strategic imperatives are one: we must help Iraq defeat those who threaten its future and also threaten ours," he said.
With a majority of Americans telling pollsters they would like to see American troops leave Iraq, the president said he is ordering some troops home.
Bush said 2,200 Marines are coming home immediately and will not be replaced, and an Army brigade of 3,500 will be out of Iraq by Christmas. These units were already scheduled to come home, but now, they will not be replaced.
"General Petraeus believes we have now reached the point where we can maintain our security gains with fewer American forces," Bush said.
Bush's plan is to withdraw five brigades by mid-July -- approximately 23,000 troops, leaving about 137,000 U.S. troops in place by next summer.
While Bush portrayed the redeployment as a troop withdrawal, there will actually be 7,000 more troops in Iraq next summer than there were before Bush deployed additional forces to Iraq in January as part of a troop surge plan to quell sectarian violence.
In his more than 17-minute address, Bush suggested any troop redeployment will be heavily conditioned on stability in Iraq -- far from the rapid withdrawal of troops wanted by Democratic leaders in Congress.
"The principle guiding my decisions on troop levels in Iraq is 'return on success'," Bush said. "The more successful we are, the more American troops can return home. And in all we do, I will ensure that our commanders on the ground have the troops and flexibility they need to defeat the enemy."
The president said after December, the military would be looking to try to hand over more responsibility to Iraqi forces.
"Over time, our troops will shift from leading operations, to partnering with Iraqi forces, and eventually to overwatching those forces," he said.
While the president cited the Iraqi leaders for not meeting benchmarks for political stability, he made clear that Iraq must be stabilized before any real coming together of the Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish factions could happen.
"For Iraqis to bridge sectarian divides, they need to feel safe in their homes and neighborhoods. For lasting reconciliation to take root, Iraqis must feel confident that they do not need sectarian gangs for security," Bush said.