- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 2, 2004


President Bush says the United States will pursue its work in Iraq in the face of a violent insurgency that seeks to undermine a peaceful transfer of power to Iraqis on June 30.

“Despite many challenges, life for the Iraqi people is a world away from the cruelty and corruption of Saddam’s regime” and “we will finish our work,” Mr. Bush said yesterday in his weekly radio address.

Mr. Bush’s comments came exactly a year after his declaration that major combat operations in Iraq had ended, a point he noted.

The Iraqi resistance has become a major issue in the presidential campaign, with public doubts growing about Mr. Bush’s handling of the war, according to the latest polling data. Americans are split evenly on whether taking military action in Iraq was the right thing to do, a CBS News-New York Times poll found last week.

In the Democratic response to Mr. Bush, Iraq war veteran 1st Lt. Paul Rieckhoff expressed disappointment with the president.

“Our troops are still waiting for more body armor. They are still waiting for better equipment. They are still waiting for a policy that brings in the rest of the world and relieves their burden,” said Lt. Rieckhoff, an Army National Guard 1st lieutenant who was a platoon leader in Iraq.

Lt. Rieckhoff called his comrades in Iraq “men and women of extraordinary courage and incredible capability. But it’s time we had leadership in Washington to match that courage and match that capability.”

Democratic Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign distributed Lt. Rieckhoff’s comments.

Two more deaths on the final day of April raised the U.S. death toll to at least 136, making it the deadliest month for American forces since Mr. Bush launched the war in March 2003.

Militias, remnants of the regime and foreign terrorists “have found little support among the Iraqi people,” the president said.

Mr. Bush is pursuing twin goals on Iraq’s future, trying to ensure an atmosphere of security as Iraqis move toward self-government and returning sovereignty to the people of Iraq on June 30.

He addressed the two biggest problems facing coalition forces, saying he is prepared to let local Iraqis negotiate the disarmament of “radicals” in the city of Fallujah, while insisting that militias in the city of Najaf and elsewhere “must disarm or face grave consequences.”

On Friday in Fallujah, Iraqi troops replaced U.S. Marines and raised the Iraqi flag at the entrance to the city under a plan to end the monthlong siege there.

“American and coalition forces are in place, and we are prepared to enforce order in Iraq,” Mr. Bush said a day after a suicide car bomb on the outskirts of Fallujah killed two American troops and wounded six.

U.S. officials say military commanders won’t wait forever for local political efforts to quell the insurgency in Fallujah.

Their words foreshadow the possibility of a strong fight to gain control of the city, if joint Iraqi-American efforts fail to halt the violence.

The United Nations’ envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, has said ordering American troops into Fallujah and Najaf “is not the right thing to do” and would anger the Iraqi people. Coalition soldiers surround both cities.

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