- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2006

From combined dispatches

President Bush yesterday marked the third anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq war, saying the U.S. strategy will “lead to victory.”

“A victory in Iraq will make this country more secure and will help lay the foundation of peace for generations to come,” Mr. Bush said in a brief statement on the South Lawn of the White House after returning from Camp David.

Other administration officials echoed the president’s call for resolve in the face of enemy attacks that have killed more than 2,300 U.S. troops in Iraq.

“Now is the time for resolve, not retreat,” Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld wrote in a column for The Washington Post. “Turning our backs on postwar Iraq today would be the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis.”

While protesters around the world also observed the anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom — with anti-American rallies that drew smaller crowds than similar demonstrations in the past — the president paid tribute to the nation’s armed forces.

“Today … marks the third anniversary of the beginning of the liberation of Iraq, and it’s a time to reflect,” Mr. Bush told reporters. “And this morning, our reflections were upon the sacrifices of the men and women who wear our uniform.

“Ours is an amazing nation where thousands have volunteered to serve our country. … Many volunteered after 9/11, knowing full well that their time in the military could put them in harm’s way. So, on this third anniversary [of] the beginning of the liberation of Iraq, I think all Americans should offer thanks to the men and women who wear the uniform, and their families who support them,” he said.

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, said Iraq has made “huge progress” toward democracy, holding three nationwide elections and adopting a constitution.

“If you think about it, three years ago Saddam Hussein was still in charge of the country. Now he’s on trial, and will be held accountable by the Iraqi people,” Gen. Casey said on “Fox News Sunday.”

The Army general said progress has also “been made with the Iraqi security forces, barely from almost nothing to the point now where two of the Iraqi divisions, 13 of the Iraq brigades and almost 60 of the Iraqi military and special police battalions are actually in the lead conducting counterinsurgency operations across Iraq.”

Gen. Casey acknowledged the continuing efforts of foreign terrorists to foment civil war in Iraq.

“So, is there violence in Iraq? Sure. Is there terrorism in Iraq? Sure,” he said. “And the terrorists and insurgents are doing everything in their power to convince both the Iraqis and our public that this endeavor can’t succeed. But I think the Iraqis are right now … on the threshold of a very significant step toward their future.”

Turnout for anti-war rallies was lower than on the first and second anniversaries of the war. Only about 200 demonstrators showed up yesterday for a march down New York’s Fifth Avenue, with signs including, “We the People Need to do More to End the War.”

Attendance was also down at anti-war events in other countries, including Japan, where about 800 showed up in Tokyo for a march to the U.S. Embassy.

“The Iraq war was President Bush’s big mistake and the whole world is against him,” Tokyo organizer Ayako Nishimura told the crowd.

Similar sentiments were expressed yesterday by Democrats.

“The American people can see the truth for themselves every day,” said Democratic National Committee communications director Karen Finney. “We don’t need more of the same permanent commitment to a failed strategy from this administration. The American people know that we need to change course in Iraq, so 2006 can be a year of transition in which the Iraqis truly take control of their country.”

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat and war critic, dismissed the administration’s reports of progress in Iraq and compared the situation to the war in Vietnam 40 years ago.

“When the whole world is against you, when our international reputation has been diminished so substantially, when all the countries in the region say, ‘We’d be better off without us being in Iraq,’ when the people themselves in Iraq say — and American people say it, I mean who is right?” Mr. Murtha said.

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