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Bush to outline plans for Iraq changeover tonight

WASHINGTON -- 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 contends will put that country firmly on a path to democracy.

In a speech tonight, 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, specialists say the biggest one is how to turn over political power to Iraqis without plunging their country into chaos.

Some specialists 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 specialist 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 US Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pa., is expected to 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," Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana, told ABC's ''This Week." ''I think that's one thing the American people feel has been lacking."

While some lawmakers advocated an increase in the US 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," Representative Duncan Hunter, Republican of California, told NBC's ''Meet the Press."

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chided the president for not offering concrete plans earlier. Senator Richard G. Lugar, Republican of Indiana, said he wants to hear tonight ''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 indicated the president's approval rating at 46 percent. All surveys indicate that he is in a tight race with Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, 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.

Yesterday, President Bush celebrated the impending graduation of his daughter Barbara from Yale University, the day after doing the same for daughter Jenna in Texas.

Daughter Barbara Bush will be awarded a degree in humanities today from Yale, her father's alma mater. Jenna Bush, an English major, received a degree Saturday from the University of Texas.

After staying overnight at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, the president flew to New Haven and went to the home of Yale's president, a few doors down from a residence where Bush's father lived when he was an undergraduate in the 1940s.

On the air

President Bush will discuss the US occupation of Iraq at the US Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., at 8 p.m.

The speech will be carried live by cable outlets CNN, MSNBC, and FOX News Channel.

Officials from the major networks had not yet determined whether they would broadcast the speech live.

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