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Published: Wednesday, 10/29/2003

President stands firm on course set in Iraq

BY ANN McFEATTERS
BLADE WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF

WASHINGTON - President Bush said yesterday that he saw no need for additional U.S. troops in Iraq despite a devastating series of bomb and rocket attacks in Baghdad over the past three days, but he vowed that the United States “will stay the course” until stability is restored.

The President said the recent attacks were probably the work of remnants of Saddam Hussein's Baath party as well as “foreign terrorists” who were trying to intimidate U.S. forces into pulling out.

“Iraq is dangerous, and it's dangerous because terrorists want us to leave,” Mr. Bush said during his most extensive question-and-answer session with the media since July. “And we're not leaving.”

Mr. Bush did not specify what country or countries he thought had produced the foreign terrorists. But he suggested that the attackers were crossing into Iraq from Syria and Iran.

“We're working closely with those countries to let them know that we expect them to enforce borders, prevent people from coming across borders, if, in fact, we catch them doing that,” Mr. Bush said.

He added: “We are mindful of the fact that some might want to come into Iraq to attack and to create conditions of fear and chaos.”

Mr. Bush insisted that the mounting American death toll in Iraq won't drive the United States out and refused to answer whether American soldiers would still be there in a year, calling it a “trick question.”

Mr. Bush defended his post-war policies and said he is not ready to get into the political fray with Democratic presidential candidates debating the issue.

He said he will relish defending his record at the “appropriate time.” He then said “the world is more peaceful and more free under my leadership, and America is more secure. And that will be ... how I'll begin describing our foreign policy.”

In a Gallup Poll released yesterday, four out of 10 Americans surveyed told pollsters the situation in Iraq has made them less confident of the President's ability to handle the nation's other problems and 27 percent said the war has made them more confident. A third said it has not made much difference in their opinions.

Just back from Asia, Mr. Bush seemed tired and defensive but resolute as he answered questions about Iraq in the chill of the White House Rose Garden.

Despite the mounting numbers of American killed and wounded in Iraq, Mr. Bush said that the terrorists' effort to push the United States to leave Iraq won't work. “They're not going to intimidate America,” he vowed.

Asked how the United States is going to stop the escalating violence in Iraq, he said that there would be more efforts to train Iraqi police officers, more pressure on Syria and Iran not to let terrorists cross their borders into Iraq, and a renewed effort to act quickly on intelligence of planned attacks with the help of Iraqi citizens.

He repeated his insistence that America is involved in a long-term war unlike previous wars. He said that with Sept. 11, 2001, a state of war is now in a permanent condition of American life and that another attack should be expected.

“The terrorists will strike, and they will kill innocent life - not only in front of a Red Cross headquarters, they will strike and kill in America too. We are at war,” he said.

Asked if he misspoke when he declared the military battle in Iraq over in May, Mr. Bush refused to concede that the administration underestimated the job to be done in Iraq, But he insisted that a giant “Mission Accomplished” banner that flew on the USS Abraham Lincoln where he spoke was put up to honor the troops onboard, not his Iraq policy.

He seemed to be speaking ruefully, however, when he added, “I know it was attributed somehow to some ingenious advance man from my staff. They weren't that ingenious, by the way.''

But after the news conference, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the banner had in fact been made by the White House advance team, although “at the request of those on the ship.”

Mr. Bush said in any case that his speech on the carrier was the right thing to do.

“We had just come off a very successful military collection,” he said. “I was there to thank the troops.”

He added: “My statement was a clear statement, basically recognizing that this phase of the war for Iraq was over and there was a lot of dangerous work. And it's proved to be right, it is dangerous in Iraq.”

Mr. Bush did not say whether he would order more troops to Iraq beyond the current level of 130,000, but he said that whenever he asks if Gen. John Abizaid has what he needs in Iraq, both the general and Defense chief Donald Rumsfeld assure him he does.

But Mr. Bush insisted conditions are improving in Iraq and noted that schools and hospitals are reopening and some women are opening their own small businesses.

Mr. Bush said electric capacity had returned to prewar levels and that nearly 2 million barrels of oil a day are being produced for Iraq's citizens. He repeated his belief that weapons of mass destruction, which he used to justify the war but so far have not been found, may still be uncovered.

The President said American taxpayers should pay the $87 billion more that he recently requested from Congress for military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan because “a secure, a peaceful, and free Iraq is essential to the security, future security of America.''

Despite strong debate, Congress appears ready to send him the aid package nearly intact.

The New York Times contributed to this report.



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