- The Washington Times - Monday, May 1, 2006

President Bush yesterday warned there will be “tough days ahead” in Iraq, as Democrats pointed out that the president uttered nearly the same words three years ago to the day, when he landed on an aircraft carrier with a banner declaring, “Mission Accomplished.”

Appearing in the White House Rose Garden with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who have returned from a surprise trip to Baghdad, the president said a unity government established last week in Iraq “is more determined than ever to succeed.”

“That’s really important for the American people to know, that we’ve got partners in this effort who are dedicated to a unified Iraq and dedicated to putting a government together that is one that will represent all the Iraqi people,” Mr. Bush said.

Democrats jumped at the opportunity to exploit the anniversary of Mr. Bush’s appearance on the USS Lincoln, where he declared that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended” and that “the United States and our allies have prevailed.”

Reporters were deluged with e-mails citing the president’s three-year-old declaration, all bearing the same talking points.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, took to the floor and said “2,200 Americans have lost their lives” since Mr. Bush rendered his judgment of “mission accomplished.” Mr. Reid accused the president of manipulating prewar intelligence and said U.S. intervention in Iraq to disarm Saddam Hussein has increased terrorism around the world.

The Democratic National Committee piled on.

“The administration owes the American people, including our brave troops and their families, more than a [public relations] strategy,” DNC spokeswoman Karen Finney said.

The White House said Democrats were trying to “distract attention away from the real progress that is being made.”

“It’s unfortunate those Democrats refuse to recognize that a new unity government has just recently been formed, which really lays the foundation for more progress moving forward,” Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said.

A former senior administration official noted that although Mr. Bush appeared in front of the “Mission Accomplished” banner and praised the military’s quick victory, the president also said that “we have difficult work to do in Iraq.”

“The Democrats know President Bush said there was still much hard work left in Iraq, and they are simply using this to bash him,” the official said.

With his secretaries of defense and state at his side, Mr. Bush yesterday expressed optimism that the new Iraqi government will be moving the nation toward its own security.

“We believe this is a turning point for the Iraqi citizens and it’s a new chapter in our partnership,” he said after an Oval Office meeting with his two secretaries. “This new government is going to represent a new start for the Iraqi people. It’s a government that understands they’ve got serious challenges ahead of them.”

The president said Mr. Rumsfeld and Miss Rice talked with the new Iraqi leaders about the need to “establish control over the militias and other unauthorized armed groups and enforce the rule of law.”

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