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The Independent October 28, 2003

Defiant Bush vows to 'stay the course'

By Andrew Buncombe

President Bush said the US would "stay the course" in Iraq yesterday as the latest wave of violence raised questions about America's timetable for withdrawal of its forces.

Mr Bush and officials sought to blame "desperate" insurgents for the bombings, claiming that America's success in rebuilding Iraq was motivating such attacks.

"The more progress we make on the ground, the more free the Iraqis become, the more electricity that's available, the more jobs are available, the more kids that are going to school, the more desperate these killers become," he said after a meeting at the White House with his senior administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer. "[They] can't stand the thought of a free society. They hate freedom. They love terror. They love to try to create fear and chaos." He added: "It's in the national interest of the United States that a peaceful Iraq emerges, and we will stay the course in order to achieve this."

The Bush administration wants to scale down its presence in Iraq - possibly reducing its force of 130,000 troops to just 50,000 - in the next year. It has been involved in a desperate but largely fruitless effort to obtain international support to allow it to reduce its commitment. John Pike, director of the Washington-based military think-tank GlobalSecurity.org, said: "The dilemma is that they need an Iraqi army that is large enough to keep the peace but not so large that it can decide who is running the country.

"The problem at the moment is that if they turn the country over to the Iraqi Governing Council or to [Ahmed] Chalabi, [leader of the Iraqi National Congress] some guy with a moustache is going to come in and shoot them and say he's in charge.

"They need to do what Saddam did: develop a secret police that can make sure the army is doing its knitting and that the regular police are doing their knitting."

Michael O'Hanlon, of the independent research body The Brookings Institution, said he believed there were no signs yet that the American public was becoming unhappy with the current level of casualties. "I see no evidence that the American people think we have any alternative but to tough it out," he said. He added that it would still be possible for the US to reduce its military commitment to Iraq over the next two to three years, but it might be five years before it was possible to withdraw entirely.

Mr Bremer said yesterday that progress was being made in Iraq, but that the good news is not often being reported. "We'll have rough days ... but the overall thrust is in the right direction and the good days outnumber the bad days," he said.


Copyright 2003, The Independent