Bush: Rebuilding Iraq will be long-term effort
Attacks on U.S troops to be met with 'decisive force'
By Sean Loughlin
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush declared Tuesday that rebuilding Iraq, following a U.S.-led invasion there, will be a "massive and long-term undertaking," one that he suggested would require further sacrifice.
Appearing to address concerns about the rising number of U.S. military deaths in Iraq, Bush declared that anyone who attacks U.S. troops "will be met with direct and decisive force." And he said the U.S. commitment to Iraq would not be shaken, despite attacks from "scattered groups of terrorists" inside Iraq.
"There will be no return to tyranny in Iraq," he said, adding that the U.S. presence was needed to assure that Iraq does not fall back into the hands of those loyal to deposed leader Saddam Hussein.
The president vowed that the United States will not leave Iraq "before freedom is fully established," a line apparently aimed at some critics abroad and at home who have questioned the continued military presence in the country.
A Republican congressman, Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania, Tuesday joined those urging that the troops leave Iraq as soon as possible. Speaking to a group of business executives in Washington, Weldon, a strong supporter of the war in Iraq, said one of Congress' "greatest concerns is that our government not get bogged down with our military for the long term."
He added, "Yes, we want to guarantee stability in that country," but steps should be taken so that "as soon as possible we can bring our troops back home."
But Bush emphasized that "the rise of Iraq, as an example of moderation and democracy and prosperity, is a massive and long-term undertaking."
Speaking at a White House re-enlistment ceremony for service members, the president did not provide a specific timeline for when the United States would pull troops out of Iraq. He said about 230,000 Americans are serving in or near the country.
Bush's comments were among his most extensive about Iraq since he declared an end to major combat on May 1. They come at a time of sporadic attacks against U.S. and allied forces in Iraq, and as some lawmakers, mostly Democrats, question whether the administration exaggerated the threat from Iraq before the war.
There have been 65 U.S. military deaths since May 1. The Pentagon has classified 25 of them as "hostile."
Bush's comments were noteworthy not only for what he said -- affirming his commitment to helping Iraqis build a democratic government -- but for what he did not mention.
There was no reference to Saddam's fate -- the ousted Iraqi president remains unaccounted for more than two months after the fall of his regime following the invasion -- and just a passing reference to weapons of mass destruction.
Leading into the war, the Bush administration had argued that Saddam was developing and harboring WMD. No such weapons have been found since the war, but the Bush administration has pointed to the discovery of centrifuge parts and tractor-trailers as evidence of Saddam's development of WMD.
The president made it clear, however, that he believes the invasion of Iraq was justified.
"We ended a regime that possessed weapons of mass destruction, harbored and supported terrorists, suppressed human rights and defied the just demands of the United Nations and the world," Bush said. "True monuments of Saddam Hussein's rule have been brought to light: the mass graves, the torture chambers, the jail cells for children."
--CNN White House Correspondent Suzanne Malveaux contributed to this report.