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Attackers Won't Drive U.S. From Iraq, Bush Says

He calls peace there 'essential' to U.S. security and wants improved intelligence.

October 29, 2003|Edwin Chen | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The United States will not be driven out of Iraq by the increasingly brazen terrorist acts there, President Bush said Tuesday, vowing to continue efforts to create "a free and peaceful country" that will help to stabilize a troubled region.

"We're not leaving," he declared. "We will not be intimidated."

In his first formal news conference since July 30, the president showed his frustration over the lack of "actionable intelligence" that could stop the continuing attacks on U.S. soldiers and allied targets in Iraq, and he said the assaults were most likely carried out by "foreign" terrorists or Baath Party members loyal to Saddam Hussein.

"It's important for this nation and our coalition partners to stand our ground, to improve our intelligence, to move quickly when we find good intelligence to bring people to justice," Bush said.

The president's remarks came a day after a series of suicide bombings in Baghdad killed at least 35 people and injured more than 220.

On Tuesday, a pickup truck that had been packed with explosives blew up near a police station in Fallouja, killing at least four people and injuring seven others in the fifth deadly bomb attack in two days.

The 48-minute news conference, which had not been on the president's original schedule for the day, also came almost a year before the presidential election but amid growing questions about the administration's Iraq policy.

Asked whether he could assure Americans that there would be fewer U.S. troops in Iraq a year from now, Bush refused to answer what he termed "a trick question," but he acknowledged that the Iraq war was likely to figure prominently in the 2004 presidential campaign and said he looked forward to that debate.

"I will defend my record at the appropriate time," he told reporters in the White House Rose Garden.

"I'll say that the world is more peaceful and more free under my leadership, and America is more secure," he said.

Bush defended his request for $20 billion for the reconstruction of Iraq, calling it "a one-time expenditure" that would lead to a peaceful Iraq, which he said was essential to the security of the United States.

"It's an historic opportunity, and I will continue to make that case to the American people," he said. "It's a chance to have a more secure future for our children. It's essential we get it right."

In a session dominated by questions about Iraq, Bush emphasized the progress that he said continued to be made in rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan.

"After decades of oppression and brutality in Iraq and Afghanistan, reconstruction is difficult, and freedom still has its enemies in both of those countries," he said in his opening remarks.

But by not giving in to the "desperate attacks" of the terrorists, Bush said, Iraq and Afghanistan will be "stable, independent nations, and their people will live in freedom."

The president was unrepentant about his controversial appearance May 1 on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, during which he declared an end to the major combat phase of the Iraq war, with a huge sign proclaiming "Mission Accomplished" looming in the background. Since then, more than 200 American soldiers have died in Iraq.

"I was there to thank the troops," Bush said, urging his questioner to "look at my speech.... I said Iraq is a dangerous place and we've still got hard work to do, there's still more to be done."

He said the banner was put up by the ship's crew -- to signal that their mission in the Middle East was accomplished -- and that the sign was mistakenly attributed to "some ingenious" White House event planners.

"They weren't that ingenious, by the way," he quipped.

After the news conference, a White House spokeswoman said the Lincoln's crew asked the White House to have the sign made, Associated Press reported. The White House asked a private vendor to produce the sign, and the crew put it up, she said.

Later, a Pentagon spokesman reiterated that the banner was the crew's idea.

Bush appeared to bristle when asked whether the administration was putting out a "positive spin" on the progress in Iraq for public consumption while privately harboring a more somber assessment.

"I can't put it any more plainly: Iraq is a dangerous place. That's leveling" with the public, he said, reiterating for emphasis, "It is a dangerous place."

Bush said he and senior administration officials were simply trying to point out the progress that was being made as well.

"What I was saying is there's more than just terrorist attacks that are taking place in Iraq," the president said, citing the opening of schools and hospitals and the restoration of electricity and oil production.

Bush then inveighed against focusing solely on "the conditions which create fear -- and that is the death and the toll being taken" by the suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism in Iraq. Such an outlook, he said, is precisely what terrorists are seeking to foster.

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