Before leaving Washington on a midterm election campaign tour, George Bush held a 50-minute videoconference with Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraq prime minister.

 

In the video on Saturday, Bush said that, despite the election-year pressure, he would not alter his support for al-Maliki's government.

 

With the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq in October reaching 98, the highest toll since January 2005, some politicians have urged the administration to use timetables or other means to press al-Maliki to rein in militias.

 

Election pressures

 

Democrats, in their weekly radio address, repeated their election message that Bush has botched the Iraq war.

 

James Webb, a candidate in a key Senate race in Virginia who delivered the address, said: "With the right leadership, the situation in Iraq is solvable, in a way that will increase stability in the Middle East and reduce the threat of international terrorism.

 

"With the right leadership, the situation in Iraq is solvable, in a way that will increase stability in the Middle East and reduce the threat of international terrorism"

James Webb,
Democrat candidate in Virginia

"But the key word is leadership, which has been a scarce commodity among this administration and its followers."

   

Webb, a Vietnam veteran, highlighted comments from Republicans such as John Warner, the Virginia senator, and James Baker, a former secretary of state, who have suggested the surging violence may call for a fresh strategy in Iraq.

 

"They are moving away from the fantasy world of this administration, toward real solutions," he said.

 

Webb is running against Senator George Allen, whose seat was once considered safe but who is now in a close race.

 

A number of nationwide polls, including one by Reuters/Zogby released on Thursday, show voters favouring Democratic candidates over Republicans.

 

The president's plan

 

Ten days before the congressional elections, the president told hundreds of soldiers and their families he had a plan to stabilise Iraq and that leaving too quickly would be a mistake.

   

"Five years after 9/11 and four years into the war in Iraq, the record is clear. President Bush and his Republican Congress have made America less safe"

Jim Manley, spokesman for Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate Democratic leader

"It's tough fighting, because the enemy understands the stakes of a free Iraq," Bush said in a speech at Charleston Air Force Base.

 

"Make no mistake about it, if the United States of America were to leave before the job is done, the enemy will follow us here," Bush said.

 

"And that is why we will fight in Iraq. And that is why we will win in Iraq."

 

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, accused Bush of trying to scare Americans.

"Five years after 9/11 and four years into the war in Iraq, the record is clear. President Bush and his Republican Congress have made America less safe," he said.