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Inside Politics

Bush: Stay the course on terror war

President says al Qaeda against 'freedom and democracy' in Iraq


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CNN's Suzanne Malveaux says the White House refuses to connect the Madrid bombings with Spain's election results.

CNN's Al Goodman on Spanish investigators' efforts to trace the Madrid bombers to al Qaeda.

One year after he accompanied U.S. troops into Iraq, CNN's Walter Rodgers finds freedom and lawlessness.

Former Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke talks about the war, one year later.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Under pressure at home and abroad, President Bush is urging U.S. allies to remain committed to the reconstruction of Iraq, vowing that terrorist attacks like last week's bombings in Spain "will never shake the will of the United States."

"It's essential that we remain side-by-side with the Iraqi people as they begin the process of self-government," Bush said at a White House news conference with Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende.

Bush's comments come one year after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and at a time when his handling of the war on terror is being questioned by many Democrats, particularly Sen. John Kerry, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee.

"They'll kill innocent people to try to shake our will," Bush said of terrorists. "That's what they want to do. They'll never shake the will of the United States. We understand the stakes."

The administration has cast the toppling of the regime of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein as part of the broader war on terror. Bush has generally enjoyed high marks from the American public for his leadership on national security following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

But Democrats have grown increasingly vocal in their criticism of Bush's approach to the war on terror, saying he has alienated allies abroad and failed to match his often tough rhetoric with support for first responders, such as firefighters, at home and equipment for soldiers in the field.

And Spain's prime minister-elect, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, is rejecting Bush's appeal. He says he is standing by his threat to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq. (Full story)

Poll finds support for war

A year after the beginning of the war, most Americans think things are going well in Iraq and believe the situation there was worth going to war over, according to the results of a new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll.

More Americans also believe that the war made the United States safer from terrorism than believe going into Iraq increased the terrorism threat, but they are pessimistic about what might happen in Iraq once U.S. troops leave, the poll found.

Asked how they thought things were going in Iraq, 55 percent said either very well or moderately well, compared to 43 percent who said either very badly or moderately badly.

On the question of whether the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over, 55 percent said it was, compared to 43 percent who said it wasn't.

And asked whether the war in Iraq has made the United States safer from terrorism, 50 percent said it has, while 37 percent said the country is less safe because of the war. Ten percent thought there was no change.

Poll respondents were also asked whether, when U.S. troops leave, the situation in Iraq will turn into chaos and civil war or if the Iraqi people will be able to establish a stable government.

Forty-five percent said they thought a stable government would emerge -- but 48 percent saw chaos ahead.

The poll also found that Americans' optimism about the situation in Iraq has increased.

At the end of January, the country was evenly split -- 49 percent to 49 percent -- over whether the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over. In the latest poll, there was a 12-point gap in support of the war decision.

In early November, amid nearly daily fatalities among U.S. troops, just 38 percent thought things in Iraq were going very or moderately well, while 61 percent thought they were going very or moderately badly. Since then, the poll showed a 17-point shift to the side of optimism.

The margin of error in the poll was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

In the aftermath of last week's bombings of commuter trains in Madrid, Spanish voters ousted the Popular Party of Bush ally Jose Maria Aznar in favor of the Socialists, who opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq last March. Socialist leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said Monday he wants to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq unless the United Nations takes on a greater role there.

Asked how he would respond to Dutch citizens who have called for Balkenende to withdraw that country's troops, Bush said: "I would ask them to think about the Iraqi citizens who don't want people to withdraw because they want to be free."

About 1,100 Dutch troops are stationed in southern Iraq, part of the coalition that has occupied the country since the U.S.-led invasion last March. Balkenende said his government has yet to discuss whether Dutch troops would remain in Iraq beyond the end of June, when the United States plans to hand over power to a new Iraqi government.

Bush said the al Qaeda terrorist network -- a leading suspect in the Madrid bombings, which killed 201 people -- hopes to stop the spread of freedom and democracy in the Middle East.

"Al Qaeda wants us out of Iraq because al Qaeda wants to use Iraq as an example of defeating freedom and democracy," he said.

Meanwhile, France -- a staunch opponent of the war -- has opened an investigation after a Paris newspaper received a letter from a Muslim group threatening spectacular attacks that would make "blood run to (its) borders."

The letter, from a previously unknown group calling itself the "Servants of Allah the Mighty and the Wise," said it planned to take action after Muslim girls were banned from wearing headscarves in schools. (Full story)


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