Giving no ground despite rising casualties, US President George W. Bush says more American troops may be heading for Iraq with authority to use decisive force in a mission that "may become more difficult before it is finished."
Bush said America's will was being tested by violence that has turned April into the deadliest month in Iraq since the fall of Baghdad a year ago.
"Look, nobody likes to see dead people on their television screens," Bush said. "I don't. It's a tough time for the American people to see that. It's gut-wrenching."
The president went before the nation Tuesday night with a speech and question-and-answer session focusing on Iraq and the government's reaction to warning signs about terrorists before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Neither Bush's 17 minutes of opening remarks nor the 15 questions that followed strayed from those two topics, which the president has made central to his re-election but on which his support in polls has declined markedly.
Nonetheless, the president expressed confidence he would win over voters in elections this November.
"I don't plan on losing my job. I plan on telling the American people that I've got a plan to win the war on terror. And I believe they'll stay with me," he said.
Though nearly half the questions Bush fielded offered him the chance to admit a mistake or express regret for his administration's actions in Iraq or on the 2001 attacks, he never did -- except to apologize that he couldn't come up with any example of a failing.
A recent spike in violence has killed at least 83 US troops this month as US forces fight Sunni Muslim insurgents in the city of Fallujah, Shiite militiamen in the south and gunmen in Baghdad and on its outskirts.
In response, Bush said he has told military commanders to be prepared to use "decisive force" against insurgents and that he was ready himself to allow an increase, rather than the planned decrease, in US troop strength in Iraq.
He promised "evidence in the months to come" of progress in Iraq, for both Iraqis and Americans growing weary of the instability and violence plaguing the country. But he also warned that success could come at an even higher cost than already is being paid.
"Our work may become more difficult before it is finished," the president said. "No one can predict all the hazards that lie ahead or the cost that they will bring. Yet, in this conflict, there is no safe alternative to resolute action."
Looking longer-term, he tried to answer critics who have said the Iraq operation is too dominated by the US. He touted efforts to devise a more formal role for NATO and to win the involvement of additional countries by giving a UN envoy the power to help decide which Iraqis would be placed in charge when power is transferred June 30 from the US occupying authority.
Bush also said he was "proud" of the coalition of countries that had sent troops to Iraq and suggested he would seek for a new UN Security Council resolution "that will help other nations to decide to participate" in Iraq's reconconstruction. He did not elaborate.
The president said that within the last week he had spoken to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, both of whom have sent troops to Iraq, saying he was "heartened" by their resolve.
British Prime Minister "Tony Blair is the same way," Bush said. "He understands, like I understand, that we cannot yield at this point in time, that we must remain steadfast and strong."