March 20, 2006 On Anniversary, Bush and Cheney See Iraq Success By DAVID E. SANGER and THOM SHANKER WASHINGTON, March 19 â On the third anniversary of a war that they once expected to be over by now, President Bush and senior officials argued Sunday that their strategy was working despite escalating violence in Iraq, even as a former Iraqi prime minister once favored by the White House declared that a civil war had already started. Displaying a carefully calibrated mix of optimism about eventual victory and caution about how long American troops would be involved, the officials who marked the day â including Mr. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld â sounded much as they had on the first anniversary of the invasion. At that time, the rebuilding effort had just begun, the insurgency was far less fierce, and the American occupation had suppressed, temporarily, the sectarian violence scarring Iraq today. The picture painted by the administration clashed with that of the former interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, once hailed by Mr. Bush as the kind of fair-minded leader Iraq needed. He declared in an interview with the BBC that the country was nearing a "point of no return." Chickenhawks declare success in Iraq <img src=http://imagecache2.allposters.com/images/130/009_220-187.jpg> "It is unfortunate that we are in civil war," said Mr. Allawi, who served as prime minister after the American invasion and now leads a 25-seat secular alliance of representatives in Iraq's 275-seat National Assembly. "We are losing each day, as an average, 50 to 60 people through the country, if not more." "If this is not civil war," he said, "then God knows what civil war is." Mr. Allawi's assessment was contradicted by Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the senior American commander in Iraq, who said on CNN's "Late Edition" that "We're a long way from civil war." As politicians in Baghdad moved incrementally forward on Sunday on forming a unified government, at least 15 more bodies were discovered around the capital, bringing to more than 200 the number of people believed killed in sectarian violence in the past few weeks. [Page A10.] On CBS News' "Face the Nation," Mr. Cheney sought to place the war in a broader context. "It's not just about Iraq, it's not about just today's situation in Iraq," he said. "It's about where we're going to be 10 years from now in the Middle East and whether or not there's going to be hope and the development of the governments that are responsive to the will of the people, that are not a threat to anyone, that are not safe havens for terror or manufacturers of weapons of mass destruction." The war has taken more than 2,300 American lives, and those of 33,000 to 37,000 Iraqis, according to the estimates of the Iraq Body Count Project, an independent group that monitors the news media. Mr. Rumsfeld dismissed calls for withdrawal by comparing the current battle to the two great struggles of his generation: World War II and the cold war. "Turning our backs on postwar Iraq today would be the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis," he wrote in an op-ed article published in The Washington Post. "It would be as great a disgrace as if we had asked the liberated nations of Eastern Europe to return to Soviet domination." Mr. Bush is entering the fourth year of the war able to declare success in the dismantling of Saddam Hussein's tyrannical government and in providing a framework for democratic elections, though the country has so far failed to put together the institutions to make a democracy work. Mr. Bush's approval rating, which soared in the early days of the invasion as Americans rushed to Baghdad, has sunk to the low-to-mid 30 percent range as the chaos and number of Iraqis meeting violent deaths has escalated. Mr. Cheney was challenged on "Face the Nation" about his statement three years ago that "we will be greeted as liberators" and his assertion 10 months ago that the insurgency was in its "last throes." He insisted that in both cases his facts were right, but that the news media had created a different perception with vivid imagery of killing. "I think it has less to do with the statements we've made, which I think were basically accurate and reflect reality, than it does with the fact that there's a constant sort of perception, if you will, that's created because what's newsworthy is the car bomb in Baghdad," he said. The administration could take heart this weekend from the relatively small antiwar protests around the country, compared with protests held on the previous anniversaries of the invasion. An estimated 7,000 people demonstrated in Chicago on Saturday and smaller protests were held over the weekend in Boston, San Francisco and other cities. In Times Square, the figure was about 1,000. Television was the forum where the administration's representatives and opponents marshaled the statistics that they believe made their cases. Mr. Bush argued last week that by year's end, Iraqi forces would control more than half the country; Representative John P. Murtha, the hawkish Pennsylvania Democrat who late last year called for American withdrawal, said Sunday on NBC News' "Meet the Press" that the statistic was meaningless. "I flew for an hour and 15 minutes over desert," he said of a recent trip. "Wasn't a soul. And that's the territory I guess they're talking about." Meanwhile, he noted, unemployment has soared in areas hardest hit by sectarian violence. Oil production, which the administration once said would pay for Iraq's rebuilding, was markedly below last year's levels. As midterm elections approach, the White House is concerned that support for the war is ebbing fastest among Republicans who supported the war, including some influential conservatives who argue that the job of liberation is done, and American troops should not be left in the crossfire of civil strife. Mr. Bush talked about the war in a two-minute statement to reporters on Sunday when he returned to the White House from Camp David, urging Iraq to form a unity government, and saying, "I'm encouraged by the progress." Then he entered the White House with his wife, Laura. He offered no answers to questions about the gap between his expectations three years ago and the realities of Iraq today, seemingly underscoring the problem the White House has faced in explaining the war. Suspicions that Mr. Hussein had unconventional weapons, an original justification for the invasion, have proved unfounded. Mr. Bush halted eroding support for his Iraq strategy last December, explaining his military, political and economic strategy and admitting some early errors. But that was before images of Shiites fighting Sunnis began a new erosion of support. On the critical political question â how long American forces will stay â General Casey has said a significant presence will be required for "a couple more years," and "over 2006, we will continue to see a gradual reduction in coalition forces." When the war was launched, the Pentagon expected a short conflict. Its classified plans called for the withdrawal of the majority of American troops by the fall of 2003. Today there are roughly 133,000 still there. As of Friday, 2,313 American military personnel and Defense Department civilians had died during the Iraq effort; of those, 1,811 were killed in action and 502 in non-hostile events, like accidents, a Pentagon spokesman said Sunday. The spokesman also cited statistics that 7,912 American military personnel had been wounded so severely in action they could not return to duty, and 9,212 had been wounded in action but could return to duty. Mr. Rumsfeld, whose refusal to send larger numbers of troops into Iraq after the invasion has made him a lightning rod for critics, said in his published remarks on Sunday that terrorists, not the American-led coalition, are losing in Iraq, a message repeated by Mr. Cheney. And like Mr. Cheney, Mr. Rumsfeld insisted the problem was the imagery from a 24-hour news cycle. "Fortunately, history is not made up of daily headlines, blogs on Web sites or the latest sensational attack," Mr. Rumsfeld wrote. "History is a bigger picture, and it takes some time and perspective to measure accurately."