Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Bush: US must finish job in Iraq to honor the fallen
By Caren Bohan
SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - President George W. Bush speaking amid protests and growing public unease over Iraq, said on Monday America owed it to the more than 1,800 U.S. soldiers killed there to complete the mission, which he linked with the campaign against terrorism.
He also voiced confidence in Iraqi efforts to draft a new constitution, saying it would be a landmark event for the country and the region. He was speaking shortly before news emerged that Iraq's parliament had received a draft of the constitution but no vote was expected for a few days.
In a speech to a convention of Veterans of Foreign Wars, Bush again linked the Iraq war with efforts to protect the United States from another September 11-style attack -- a link critics say is an attempt to shift the justification for war.
"Iraq is a central front in the war on terror," Bush said. "It is a vital part of our mission."
Bush has spent August at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, and the standing ovations he received from the veterans group contrasted with anti-war protests outside the ranch begun by Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq.
Sheehan, who met with Bush in 2004, has demanded a second meeting so that she can question him about his reasons for going to war in Iraq and urge a pullout of U.S. troops. The White House has refused.
Sheehan's protest has become a magnet for anti-war feeling that is reflected in opinion polls showing a majority of Americans worried about the way the war is going, and that has gained some traction among mainstream politicians.
Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican and a veteran of the Vietnam War, on Sunday likened the Iraq war to Vietnam, while Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin called for a December 2006 deadline to withdraw from Iraq.
GRIEF OF FAMILIESIn his speech, Bush, who rarely gives specific numbers for the death toll, said a total of 1,864 U.S. soldiers had been killed in Iraq and 223 in Afghanistan and acknowledged the grief faced by their families.
But he added, "We owe them something. We will finish the task that they gave their lives for. We'll honor their sacrifice by staying on the offensive against the terrorists and building strong allies in Afghanistan and Iraq that will help us win and fight ... the war on terror."
Monday's appearance in Salt Lake City was Bush's first public appearance in nine days. He has left his Texas ranch for a three-day western swing which will include a speech on the U.S.-declared war against terrorism in Idaho on Wednesday.
In anticipation of his Salt Lake City speech, smaller groups of protesters than those near the ranch had congregated near the veterans' event. Among them was Celeste Zappala, 58, the mother of a National Guardsman killed in Iraq in 2004 while assisting with the hunt for weapons of mass destruction.
"We all know that noble cause for war that Bush talks about has changed several times," said Zappala, who is part of Sheehan's group, Gold Star Families for Peace.
Salt Lake City's Democratic Mayor Rocky Anderson had also called for protests but was booed when he addressed the veterans convention, which was generally supportive of Bush.
Vietnam veteran Gary Knudson, 64, of South Dakota, said he disagreed with the boos but took issue with Sheehan's stance of saying she supports the troops but is against the war.
"You can't have it both ways," he said. "I think she's misguided."
Bush went to war in Iraq in 2003 warning of a threat from stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. None were found.Critics accuse Bush of shifting his argument for war when he invokes the issue of terrorism to argue for staying the course in Iraq. They point out that a commission investigating the hijacked plane attacks of September 11, 2001, found no operational ties between those attacks and deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's government.
The White House says the presence in Iraq of al Qaeda-linked insurgents shows the link with terrorism, although the U.S. administration concedes many of those militants have come into Iraq from other countries since the U.S. invasion.