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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Under the pressure of increasing U.S. deaths in battle, President Bush said Thursday the United States wants Iraqis to take more responsibility for governing their troubled country and said coalition forces are determined to prevail over terrorists.
Bush said he was sending L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. administrator in Baghdad, back to the country to work with Iraqis on developing a plan to speed up establishment of an Iraqi government.
He said Bremer, in two days of urgent talks at the White House, said the Iraqis want to be more involved. "That's a positive development. That's what we want. We want the Iraqis to be more involved in the governance of their country."
Bush spoke in the Oval Office where he held an early-morning event to complain that Senate Democrats were stalling his nominations for federal judgeships. He accused the Democrats of ""ugly politics."
The president did not discuss governing options for Iraq although aides have talked about establishing an interim government before a new constitution is written, a significant change from the current strategy.
Bush also expressed resolve to curb the violence which has killed 396 U.S. soldiers.
"We're going to prevail," the president said. "We've got a good strategy to deal with these killers."
"The goal of the terrorists ... is to create terror and fear amongst average Iraqis ... create the conditions where people are just so fearful for their lives that they cannot think positively about freedom. That's their goal," he said.
"Our goal, of course, is to continue to work with those Iraqi citizens who understand that freedom is a precious commodity, those who understand that there is a hopeful life possible in a part of the world where a lot of hope has diminished in the past."
"And that's the struggle ... and we're going to prevail," Bush vowed.
With casualties mounting, shrinking support from the American public, a troubling intelligence report and a stony silence from nations that have been asked for more peacekeeping troops, Bush wants to shorten the U.S. occupation.
That involves accelerating efforts by Iraqis to take charge of security, write a constitution, hold elections and assume control over government institutions.
"We're looking at all sorts of ideas and we do want to accelerate the pace of reform," Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters.
The administration does not intend to abandon the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, officials said, but was exploring new scenarios. One option called for creating a smaller body within the 24-member council -- perhaps 10 people with expanded roles -- or establishing one person as a strong leader of the council, a senior administration official said Wednesday.
Another administration official said an interim Iraqi leader could have authority to govern the country until a constitution was written and elections held.
For months, the Bush administration has been saying Iraq must first have a constitution in place and hold elections before the U.S. would relinquish sovereignty.
In Baghdad, there was disagreement among governing council members about whether to push for an interim government with more power before a constitution is written.
The administration refused to discuss publicly what was under consideration, saying the Iraqi council had to be consulted first. U.S. officials said decisions would not be imposed by the United States, but would be agreed upon with the council.
The top U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, who was called to Washington for a quickly arranged visit with Bush and other top administration officials, was taking back to Baghdad several scenarios for discussion, an official said. Some of the ideas that were reviewed by Bush originated from the council itself while others were suggested by Bremer to the council, the official said.
Bremer said he would tell the council that "we need to pull this all together and integrate it into a plan going forward" and that Bush was steadfast in his determination to defeat terrorism and to give Iraqis authority over their own country.
The U.S.-appointed council faces a Dec. 15 U.N. deadline for producing a new constitution and holding elections. Privately, administration officials have complained that the council was not making enough progress toward that goal.
Another attack Wednesday on occupying forces underlined the need to stabilize Iraq. A suicide bomber blew up a truck packed with explosives at an Italian paramilitary base in southern Iraq, killing at least 26 people, including 18 Italians. It was the deadliest toll suffered by non-American coalition forces since the occupation began in April.
The United States struck at the Iraqi insurgency hours later, destroying a warehouse in Baghdad and chasing attackers who were seen firing mortars.
Powell described the security situation as difficult, but said, "We are confident that our commanders will be able to get on top of it, and that our intelligence experts will be able to penetrate these remnants of the old regime who are trying to destroy the hopes and aspirations of the Iraqi people."
On Capitol Hill, Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota called on the CIA to brief Congress on "just what, if anything, can be done to change the deteriorating set of circumstances." A top-secret intelligence report that came to light Wednesday warned that Iraqis were losing faith in U.S.-led occupation forces, two senior U.S. officials said.
After the attack on the Italian base Wednesday, Bush, who has refrained from reacting to American casualties on a daily basis, expressed remorse. "We appreciate their sacrifices," he said. "I appreciate the steadfast leadership of Prime Minister (Silvio) Berlusconi, who refuses to yield in the face of terror."
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)