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Bush in Ohio defends war

'They're watching to see whether we cut and run'


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President Bush acknowledges the crowd during a campaign rally in Cincinnati, Ohio on Tuesday.
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MAUMEE, Ohio (CNN) -- President Bush defended the war in Iraq during a campaign swing Tuesday through Ohio and insisted that the United States will deliver on his promise to bring democracy to that country.

Bush said the Iraqi people are "watching very carefully" amid the upsurge in violence that has killed more than 100 American troops since early April.

"They're watching to see how we react. They're watching to see whether we cut and run or whether we're good for our word. They don't have to worry about me," he said. (Today in Iraq: Troops wounded in Najaf; Army report documents mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners)

"I don't care what the politics are. I don't care what the pressures are. We will make sure that we fulfill our mission and Iraq is free."

Bush is on a two-day campaign bus tour through Michigan and Ohio, both expected to be battleground states in November's election.

In an interview with Michigan newspaper reporters Monday, he said he is saddened by the mounting death toll in Iraq -- but he insisted that Americans' long-term security depends on spreading democratic reform in the Middle East.

"I'm sad because I know that somebody hurts and somebody grieves, somebody's heart is broken," he said.

"Laura and I spent time with the families of those who have died, and it's a hard but necessary part of the job."

But Bush said leaving Iraq without transforming it into a democracy would be "to forget their sacrifice."

"A free Iraq and a democratic Iraq in the heart of the Middle East, in a part of the world where there's tremendous hatred and animosity and violence, is an essential part of having a peaceful world. This is an historic moment, and their loved one is a part of making history," he said.

The United States and its allies invaded Iraq in March 2003, accusing Saddam Hussein's regime of concealing stocks of chemical and biological weapons, long-range missiles and efforts to develop a nuclear bomb from U.N. weapons inspectors.

After Saddam Hussein's government collapsed the following month, U.S. inspectors found some evidence that Iraq had conducted prohibited research into long-range missiles and biological weapons.

But David Kay, the former head of the U.S. inspection team, said in January that he does not expect any weapons of mass destruction to be found.

More than 750 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq since the invasion, most of them in a protracted guerrilla campaign against occupation forces. (Special Report: U.S. deaths in Iraq)

April saw the deaths of 126 Americans as they battled a revolt led by a Shiite Muslim cleric in southern Iraq and Sunni Muslim insurgents in the western Iraqi cities of Ramadi and Fallujah.

The United States is scheduled to hand over power to an interim Iraqi government at midnight on June 30.

But U.S. troops will remain in command of Iraq's security forces, and more than 100,000 Americans are expected to be stationed in Iraq for an indefinite period.


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