- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 28, 2004

President Bush yesterday said U.S. troops will use whatever force is needed to quell uprisings in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, where American warplanes continued to pound insurgents.

“Our military commanders will take whatever action is necessary to secure Fallujah on behalf of the Iraqi people,” Mr. Bush told reporters in the Oval Office. “We will deal with those who want to stop the march to freedom, and that’s exactly what’s happening in Fallujah.”

The president’s remarks came as U.S. forces bombed insurgent strongholds in Fallujah for the third consecutive night, even as American commanders continued to seek a political solution. Mr. Bush said the continuing violence will not stop the United States from handing over governing authority to Iraqis two months from tomorrow.

“The June 30th date is a solid date,” he said. “We will have a successful transfer of power.”

But Mr. Bush cautioned that the violence will only intensify as that date draws near.

“What you must realize is happening in a place like Fallujah is, the closer we come to passing sovereignty, the more likely it is that foreign fighters, disgruntled Ba’athists or friends of the Shia cleric will try to stop progress,” he said.

“They want to kill innocent life to try to get us to quit,” he said. “And we’re not going to.”

Earlier in the day, the president met with Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command.

“He was reporting that there will be joint patrols with Iraqi police in Fallujah,” Mr. Bush said. “Most of Fallujah is returning to normal. There are pockets of resistance, and we will — our military, along with Iraqis — will make sure it’s secure.”

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld explained the Fallujah violence in blunt terms.

“What’s going on are some terrorists and regime elements have been attacking our forces. And our forces have been going out and killing them,” he told reporters after briefing lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Asked if an all-out military confrontation can be avoided in Fallujah, he said: “Time will tell.”

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is under fire for the burgeoning oil-for-food scandal in Iraq, criticized American military efforts.

“Violent military action by an occupying power against inhabitants of an occupied country will only make matters worse,” he said. “It’s definitely time, time now for those who prefer restraint and dialogue to make their voices heard.”

But Mr. Rumsfeld said the press is overemphasizing episodes like the destruction of a minaret on an Iraqi mosque earlier this week. He showed reporters a color photo of weapons-toting insurgents gathered in a Najaf mosque and said sarcastically: “As you can see they have all kinds of religious instruments, called rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s. That’s what they do in their mosques.”

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell also defended U.S. attacks on Iraqi militants in mosques.

“We are being very careful in what we are doing in Fallujah and Najaf and Karbala and elsewhere in the country,” he told reporters in Berlin. “But when individuals who are murderers, who are thugs, who are terrorists, go into holy places … for the purpose of shooting at and killing innocent people and killing our servicemen and women, who are there to restore order, then this is a desecration of a holy place.”

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