Bush vows US will finish job in Iraq
U.S. President Bush acknowledged Tuesday night the United States has suffered a series of "tough weeks in Iraq" but said American forces will "finish the work of the fallen" and usher in a new era of freedom and democracy. Bush said if additional forces are needed "I will send them" to Iraq, where more than 100,000 troops are stationed.
Bush also said the United States would stick to a deadline of June 30 for handing over political power to Iraqis.
Bush made his remarks in a lengthy statement at the outset of a prime-time White House news conference, only the third in more than three years in office.
He strode into the East Room of the White House midway through the deadliest month for Americans since Baghdad fell last spring.
At least 83 U.S. forces have been killed and more than 560 wounded this month, according to the U.S. military, as American troops fight on three fronts: against Sunni insurgents in Fallujah, Shiite militiamen in the south and gunmen in Baghdad and on its outskirts. At least 678 U.S. troops have died since the war began in March 2003.
Additionally, four American employees of a private security company working in Iraq were killed and their bodies mutilated two weeks ago, and Thomas Hamill, an employee another firm, was seized as a hostage since last week.
Bush said the United States was demanding the arrest or capture of Muqtada al-Sadr, a radical Shiite cleric whose illegal militias are blamed for the mutilation of the four Americans.
He compared insurgents taking hostages in Iraq to radical Islamic fanatics around the world, saying they are "serving the same ideology of murder" of those who blow up trains in Madrid, Spain, bomb buses in Israel ¡ª or inflicted the worst attack in American history on Sept. 11, 2001.
While Bush said American troops will remain in Iraq, he also said the United States would formally recognize the new Iraqi government once the June 30 transfer of power was completed and appoint an ambassador and open an embassy.
He also said he would send Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to the Middle East to discuss issues of "mutual interest" with nations there.
Bush's opening statement lasted 17 minutes ¡ª the equivalent of a medium length address to the nation.
It was Bush's first prime-time news conference since March 6, 2003, just days before the opening of the war to depose Saddam. Bush's only other evening news conference was on Oct. 11, 2001, a month after the terror attacks.
In the hours leading up to Bush's appearance, the national commission investigating Sept. 11 held a televised hearing and issued a report that said a more alert FBI and CIA working together might have uncovered the terrorists' plot. The report detailed an agonizing series of missed opportunities, half-measures and bureaucratic inertia.
Commissioner Thomas H. Kean called it "an indictment of the FBI for over a long period of time."