Wednesday, September 28, 2005

President Bush yesterday hailed the killing of a leading terrorist in Iraq, but warned that violence against U.S. and Iraqi forces will escalate in advance of next month’s elections.

“Our strategy is clear in Iraq,” Mr. Bush said in the Rose Garden after meeting with top military commanders. “We are hunting down high-value targets.”

But Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said the president’s strategy is anything but clear.

“Despite the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq for more than three years, President Bush has failed to lay out what his strategy is — both politically and militarily — in order to achieve the progress needed to bring our troops home,” said the Nevada Democrat.

The president’s speech on Iraq yesterday came after a month in which he focused on hurricane-relief efforts and after a weekend of anti-war demonstrations in Washington. The protesters demanded an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, although 54 percent of Americans say that will only make things worse, according to a poll by Rasmussen Reports.

The poll also showed 23 percent of Americans consider themselves part of the anti-war movement, compared with 61 percent who say they are not part of the movement.

Cindy Sheehan was among the demonstrators arrested Monday outside the White House for protesting without a permit. Mrs. Sheehan, who lost a son in Iraq, met Tuesday with Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and afterward labeled Mr. McCain a “warmonger” for supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Yesterday, Mr. Bush said he was heartened by news that U.S. and Iraqi forces killed Abdullah Abu Azzam — top deputy to terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi — in Baghdad on Sunday.

“This guy is a brutal killer,” Mr. Bush said. “He is one of the terrorists responsible for the recent upsurge in attacks in the Iraqi capital, which is part of their campaign to stop a referendum on the Iraqi constitution.”

The president was briefed yesterday by Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, and Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top commander in the Middle East. The Army generals joined Mr. Bush in the Rose Garden, along with Vice President Dick Cheney.

Mr. Bush warned of more bloodshed in Iraq in the run-up to next month’s elections. The number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq to date is approaching 2,000.

“We can expect there to be increasing violence from the terrorists,” he said. “They can’t stand elections. The thought of people voting is an anathema to them. You see, democracy and freedom are the exact opposite of what’s in their mind.”

Mr. Bush called attention to yesterday’s congressional briefings by Pentagon generals who provided updates on the training of Iraqi forces.

“See, it used to be after we cleared the terrorists out of a city, there wasn’t enough qualified Iraqi troops to maintain control — so when we left to conduct other missions, the terrorists would move back in,” the president said. “Now, the increasing number of more capable Iraqi troops has allowed us to better hold on to the cities we have taken from the terrorists.”

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