The White House took a step back Monday from President Bush’s confident assertion two months ago that "absolutely, we’re winning" the war in Iraq.

"I’m not playing the game any more," said White House press secretary Tony Snow. "It’s one of those things where you end up … trying to summarize a complex situation with a single word or gerund, and — or even a participle."

Snow was questioned repeatedly on the point because former Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Sunday that the situation in Iraq is "grave and deteriorating, and we’re not winning, we are losing. We haven’t lost."

Bush’s declaration — at a news conference on Oct. 25 — was challenged, albeit indirectly, by Robert Gates, the new defense secretary, who raised some eyebrows at his confirmation hearing on Dec. 5 by saying, when asked whether the U.S. was winning in Iraq, "No, sir."

Snow, asked Monday if Bush still believes the United States is winning, said, "I think at this point it ceases to be fruitful to jump into this." He said that "we will win and we have to win."

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press

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