Bush: Iraq crucial in war on terror
Bush speaks Thursday at a National Endowment for Democracy event in Washington.
WAR ON TERRORISM
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Amid dropping public approval for the Iraq war, President Bush said Thursday the fight against terrorism must continue there because it is the center of a terrorist movement to "intimidate the whole world."
During a speech billed by the White House as a major policy address, Bush said if U.S. forces withdraw from Iraq, insurgents would "use the vacuum created by an American retreat to gain control of a country, a base from which to launch attacks and conduct their war against nonradical Muslim governments."
Critics have charged that the Iraq war has become a breeding ground for terror, while opinion polls suggest that U.S. public support for the war has been waning since spring.
Bush made his remarks at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, and emphasized that the worldwide terror movement should not be appeased. (Watch Bush make his case to continue the Iraq war -- 3:05)
"We're not facing a set of grievances" that can be negotiated, Bush said. (Full transcript)
"We're facing a radical ideology with an unalterable objective, to enslave whole nations and intimidate the whole world," he said.
Bush indicated that the public is unaware of many anti-terrorism victories. He said the United States and its allies have disrupted 10 al Qaeda terrorism plots since September 11, 2001, including three inside the United States. (Read about the 10 foiled plots)
The White House said the U.S. incidents Bush was referring to include a 2003 plot to blow up a New York bridge and the case of Jose Padilla, who is being held by the military as an enemy combatant. Padilla is accused of plotting with al Qaeda to set off a radioactive "dirty bomb." (Full Story)
Details of a third case could not be revealed due to their classified nature, the White House said.
Responding to the president's address, the Senate Minority Whip, Dick Durbin, D- Illinois, said the speech left too many questions about the Iraq war unanswered.
"He owes it to the American people -- and the Democrats are calling on him to tell the American people -- how will this end? How can we measure success? How can we get beyond the generalities of the speech that we heard today?" Durbin said.
"I believe the president has offered America a false choice between resolve and retreat," Durbin said. "The real choice is between the strategy of accountability and more vague generalities. We must move beyond the policies of fear to a forceful commitment to protect the United States and its values."
Bush: War an 'excuse'
Bush said the war has not caused hatred of the United States among radical Muslims or global terror attacks, but rather is an "excuse" to further the goal of creating an Islamic state across the Mideast.
"The militants believe that controlling one country will rally the Muslim masses, enabling them to overthrow all moderate governments in the region and establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia," Bush said.
"The hatred of the radicals existed before Iraq was an issue," Bush said. "And it will exist after Iraq is no longer an excuse."
"No act of ours invited the rage of the killers, and no conscience, bribe or act of appeasement will change or limit their plans for murder." (Watch Bush describe radicals in the war on terrorism -- 8:24)
The address was the latest salvo in a White House push to rally support for the administration's anti-terrorism policy and came after recent speeches by Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. (Full story)
It was delivered nine days before Iraqis are to vote on a new constitution.
On Wednesday, Bush met with top military advisers at the White House, telling reporters afterward that U.S. and Iraqi troops are on the offensive against insurgents who want to disrupt Iraq's October 15 vote on a new constitution.
He said about 3,000 Iraqi troops had done "a fine job" in recent combat alongside American units in western Iraq.
"Over 30 percent of the Iraqi troops are in the lead on these offensive operations. We've got troops embedded with them, and that's an important part of the training mission," he said.
Bush has tried repeatedly to link Iraq to the anti-terror campaign launched after al Qaeda's September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.
Though the 9/11 commission found no operational relationship between al Qaeda and Iraq before the 2003 invasion that toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, critics say the insurgency against U.S. troops that followed Saddam's overthrow has drawn terrorists into Iraq to fight Americans.
U.S. and Iraqi forces have carried out operations in western Iraq in recent weeks aimed at disrupting insurgent control in the region and targeting al Qaeda in Iraq, the group led by wanted terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
One recent raid resulted in the terror group's No. 2 operative being killed, U.S. officials have said.
Polls have found U.S. public support for the Iraq war weakening since spring, despite speeches by the president in June and September that White House aides hoped would reverse the trend.
A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll in late September found that 59 percent of people surveyed considered the 2003 invasion a mistake, 63 percent said they wanted to see some or all U.S. troops withdrawn, and only 32 percent approved of Bush's handling of the conflict.
Elections for permanent government
Registered Iraqi voters will head to the polls on October 15 to vote on whether to accept a new constitution.
Sunni Arabs, who are the minority in Iraq but who dominated during Saddam Hussein's regime, could defeat the charter if they get a two-thirds "no" vote in any three provinces -- a possibility that could occur in four of Iraq's 18 provinces.
The document's approval would lead to elections for a permanent government. But if rejected, elections for a new transitional government would be held and the process of drafting a national charter would start over.
Bush met Wednesday with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Peter Pace and Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, former commander of the effort to train and equip Iraqi soldiers.
Petraeus said later that only one Iraqi battalion -- about 750 troops -- is capable of operating independent of coalition support.
But he said about 35 battalions are capable of taking the lead in operations with U.S. troops, and many of those second-tier units have assumed control over cities in southern Iraq and parts of Baghdad.
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