Beset by fading public support for the war and growing violence on the ground, President George Bush flatly rejected any timetable for troop withdrawal from Iraq, vowing the United States would stay until the insurgency was defeated and democracy had been established.

“This is a time of testing, a critical time,” Mr Bush acknowledged yesterday after a meeting at the White House with Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the Iraqi Prime Minister. The insurgents “feel that if they can shake our will and affect our public opinion, we’ll give up on the mission. But I’m not giving up the mission, we’re doing the right thing”. The President was speaking amid unprecedented challenges to his whole Iraq policy. A week of carnage in that country was capped by news that six marines were killed on Thursday in the former rebel stronghold of Fallujah, lifting the total American death toll in Iraq to a total of 1,730.

Several victims were believed to be female marines. The Pentagon said they died when a suicide car bomber exploded his vehicle as a US military convoy was passing. The attack is the 479th recorded car bombing since the handover of sovereignty on 28 June 2004. Even more serious is the ebbing support on the home front. Polls show a majority of Americans believe the March 2003 invasion to topple Saddam Hussein was a mistake. Some 60 per cent now favour a troop pullout, while Mr Bush’s approval rating has tumbled to little more than 40 per cent, the lowest of any second-term president since Richard Nixon in the throes of Watergate. ~The Independent