Bush says Iraq war worth it, vows to win
By Steve Holland
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Reuters) – President Bush acknowledgeddoubts about his Iraq strategy in a major address on Tuesdaynight but argued it was worth it a year after themuch-trumpeted U.S. transfer of power to Iraqis gave way to anightmarish stream of suicide bombings.
“We have more work to do, and there will be tough momentsthat test America’s resolve,” Bush said in remarks aimed atquelling doubts among Americans concerned about the rising U.S.death toll. “We are fighting against men with blind hatred, andarmed with lethal weapons, who are capable of any atrocity.”
He announced no shift in course and instead pleaded forpatience, insisting that U.S. troops will stay in Iraq until asufficient number of Iraqi military units are trained to defendagainst an insurgency that earlier in the day assassinated aprominent member of the Iraqi parliament and killed two U.S.soldiers.
Bush, whose approval ratings have fallen to the lowestlevels of his presidency in part because of growing fears aboutIraq, cited progress in the training of Iraqis and said settinga deadline for a U.S. withdrawal as some members of the U.S.Congress have demanded would be a “serious mistake.”
“Amid all this violence, I know Americans ask the question:Is the sacrifice worth it? It is worth it, and it is vital tothe future security of our country,” said Bush.
Bush argued against sending more U.S. troops to Iraq tobolster the 138,000 already there, saying it would “undermineour strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in thisfight.”
The U.S. military has had difficulty recruiting, includingin the Army, which provides most of the U.S. ground troops inIraq.
In the face of complaints from Democrats that he hasoffered no strategy for success in Iraq, Bush said his plan wasto get Iraqis trained sufficiently so U.S. troops can leavewhile at the same time assisting Iraq’s efforts to write aconstitution and hold elections.
“Our strategy can be summed up this way: As the Iraqisstand up, we will stand down,” he said.
He invoked the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and quoted alQaeda leader Osama bin Laden as a reason for staying thecourse.
No connection between Saddam Hussein and the Sept. 11attacks was ever established, but Bush said Iraq is a centralfront in the war on terrorism in part because the insurgency isled by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who has swornallegiance to bin Laden.
“The only way our enemies can succeed is if we forget thelessons of September 11, if we abandon the Iraqi people to menlike Zarqawi and if we yield the future of the Middle East tomen like bin Laden,” Bush said.
He cited a comment from bin Laden that “this third worldwar … is raging” in Iraq. “He says it will end in ‘victoryand glory or misery and humiliation,”‘ said Bush.
To bolster the point, he said U.S. military officials havereported killing or capturing hundreds of foreign fighters inIraq who have come from Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, Egypt,Sudan, Yemen and Libya.
Increasingly, Americans see the war as separate from 9/11.A USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll this week found for the first timethat by a margin of 50 percent to 47 percent, Americans see thewar in Iraq as separate from the war on terrorism.
Before the speech from Fort Bragg, which has 9,300 troopsin Iraq, Bush met privately with family members of 33 soldierskilled in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 1,700 Americans havedied in the Iraq war and thousands more have been wounded.
Fort Bragg and neighboring Pope Air Force Base have lost 89troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll found most Americans didnot believe the administration’s assertions of impressive gainsagainst the insurgency. But a clear majority said they werewilling to keep U.S. forces there for an extended time tostabilize the country.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said Bush didnot offer a path for success.
“There is a growing feeling among the American people thatthe president’s Iraq policy is adrift, disconnected from thereality on the ground and in need of major mid-coursecorrections. ‘Staying the course,’ as the President advocates,is neither sustainable nor likely to lead to the success we allseek,” Reid said.
Bush’s speech came on the anniversary of the handover ofsovereignty. He pointed to last January’s Iraqi elections andwork on a new constitution as signs of progress.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Democratic Sen.Carl Levin of Michigan urged Bush to make clear that Iraq mustmeet its timetable to adopt a constitution, or the UnitedStates would reevaluate its military commitment.
“We should demonstrate to the Iraqis that our willingnessto bear that burden is not unlimited,” they said in a letter.
Iraqis are scheduled to write a constitution by mid-August,vote on it in October then hold new elections in December.(Additional reporting by Adam Entous)