President Bush orders 5,700 troops home from Iraq by Christmas

by Tracie Potts
NBC News

Calling Iraq an ally and this a defining moment in America's history, President Bush has ordered 5,700 troops home from Iraq by Christmas and thousands more next year.

The reductions President Bush outlined would leave more than 80% of forces now in Iraq still there, indefinitely, after next summer and Democrats say that's just not acceptable.

It's what many war critics and soldiers' families have waited to hear.

In his nationwide address Thursday night, President Bush said "because of the measure of success we are seeing in Iraq, we can being seeing troops come home."

5,700 by Christmas, five more brigades by next summer.

Critics, such as Democratic Senator Jack Reed, says that leaves
"130-thousand American troops -- the same number as nine months ago? ... his plan does not amount to real change."

Real change, the President argues, is taking place in Iraq, not only Anbar Province, where he visited Labor Day, but even in Baghdad.

President Bush said "sectarian killings are down and ordinary life is beginning to return."

But the President acknowledges Iraq's government has far to go.

President Bush said "the government has not met its own legislative benchmarks. And in my meetings with Iraqi leaders, I have made it clear that they must."

As the President spoke, war protesters lined Pennsylvania Avenue.

Inside, the president took on critics who say his troops reductions are too little, too late.

President Bush said "it's never too late to advance freedom. And it's never too late to support our troops in a fight they can win."

President Bush has asked his top Iraq commander, General David Petraeus, for another progress report in March.