Bush vows to keep US troops in Iraq until job done
US President George W. Bush, facing sinking public approval and anti-war protests, said on Thursday pulling troops out of Iraq now would leave the United States vulnerable to another attack like that of September 11, reported Reuters.
"The only way the terrorists can win is if we lose our nerve and abandon the mission. For the security of the American people, that's not going to happen on my watch," Bush said after meeting senior military officials at the Pentagon.
Despite opinion polls showing increasing doubts in the United States over the war in Iraq, Bush said frequently over the summer that setting a timetable for withdrawal of the some 147,000 U.S. troops in Iraq would only embolden insurgents. He has said that as Iraqi troops become more able to take over security, U.S. troops will be able to stand down.
More than 1,900 American troops have been killed in Iraq since the U.S. invasion in March 2003, a figure dwarfed by Iraqi deaths, and anti-war protesters who are preparing for a rally in Washington this weekend say it is time to bring U.S. troops home.
"To leave Iraq now would be to repeat the costly mistakes of the past that led to the attacks of September the 11th, 2001," he said.
Bush, who saw his public approval ratings soar in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, has faced a drop in the polls due to growing uneasiness over the Iraq war and fierce criticism of the government's slow initial response to the disastrous hit from Hurricane Katrina on the U.S. Gulf Coast last month.
Bush also warned on Thursday that insurgents were likely to increase violence as Iraqis prepare to vote on a constitution next month.
"Today, our commanders made it clear: As Iraqis prepare to vote on their constitution in October and elect a permanent government in December, we must be prepared for more violence," Bush said after his Pentagon meeting.
Bush said insurgents were concentrated in four of Iraq's 18 provinces and Iraqi forces were taking a greater role in operations to defeat them.
He also reaffirmed his administration's charge that Syria was not doing enough to stop foreign fighters from crossing its border to join the insurgency in Iraq.
"We've made it clear to Syria we expect them to help us secure their border and to stop the transit of suiciders coming from other countries through Syria into Iraq," he said. "Their response hasn't been very satisfactory to date. I continue to remind them of their obligation."
U.S. forces have been unsuccessful in finding two of the most wanted men in Washington's declared war against terrorism -- al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden who has been hunted since the September 11, 2001, attacks, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who has emerged as a leader of the insurgency in Iraq.
"No question that some of their leaders are still at large, isolated ... in remote parts the world," Bush said. "But make no mistake about it, we're doing everything we can to find them. And when we do, we'll bring them to justice," he said.
"Our withdrawal from Iraq would allow the terrorists to claim an historic victory over the United States. It would leave our enemies emboldened and allow men like Zarqawi and bin Laden to dominate the Middle East and launch more attacks on America and other free nations," Bush said.