Union Tribune

November 21, 2003

Bush hints more U.S. troops could be needed in Iraq

By GEORGE E. CONDON JR.
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

"No act of thugs or killers will change our resolve or alter their fate. A free Iraq will be
LONDON – Undeterred by deadly bombings in Turkey and massive protests in London, President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair vowed yesterday to stay the course in the war on terror and redouble efforts to stabilize Iraq.

For the first time, the president also raised the possibility that the number of U.S. troops in Iraq could increase – something aides were quick to say is unlikely.

free of them. We will finish the job we have begun," Bush said hours after bombers in Istanbul struck the British consulate and a London-based bank.

The blasts were the first direct terrorist attacks on British interests and occurred in the middle of the president's four-day state visit to Britain.

Bush made the remarks at a joint news conference with Blair after the two leaders talked at the prime minister's office at No. 10 Downing St.

Pressed by a reporter about troop levels in Iraq, the president said, "We could have less troops in Iraq, we could have the same number of troops in Iraq, we could have more troops in Iraq," adding that the number would be "whatever is necessary to secure Iraq."

Bush tried to clarify his response, saying he can't make "the necessary calculations for troop levels" until he knows how quickly Iraqis can be trained to serve in a postwar Iraqi army.

A senior administration official later told reporters, "There is simply nothing to suggest that the number of American forces would need to increase."

There are currently 131,600 U.S. troops in Iraq, a number the Pentagon hopes to reduce to 105,000 by May.

News of the attacks in Turkey hit Blair particularly hard.

At the time of the news conference, he was uncertain how many British citizens had been killed or wounded. British Consul-General Roger Short, 58, and another British diplomat, Lisa Hallworth, 38, were among the dead.

Blair was emphatic that the attacks would not force a British withdrawal from Iraq.

"We stay until the job gets done," he said. "And what this latest terrorist outrage shows us is that this is a war. Its main battleground is Iraq."

Calling the attacks "evil," Blair said, "Once again, we must affirm that in the face of this terrorism there must be no holding back, no compromise, no hesitation in confronting this menace, in attacking it wherever and whenever we can, and in defeating it utterly."

Both leaders rejected the notion that their actions in Iraq had made their citizens more vulnerable to terrorism.

"What has caused the terrorist attack today in Turkey is not the president of the United States," Blair said, motioning toward Bush. "Its not the alliance between America and Britain. What is responsible for that terrorist attack is terrorism."

The shock of the attacks helped fuel a massive protest against Bush and U.S. policies that, critics say, dragged Britain into the Iraq war.

The demonstrators marched through the streets of London's government center and gathered in Trafalgar Square, where they toppled a large papier-mache effigy of Bush, painted gold to resemble a statue of Saddam Hussein toppled when U.S. troops moved into Baghdad on April 9.

Many of the demonstrators said they expect more attacks on British interests as long as 9,000 British troops remain in Iraq.

The police said there were 70,000 protesters. Organizers put the number at 150,000.

It was one of the biggest midweek demonstrations ever in London. The police lined the streets along the demonstration route to ensure order, and succeeded in large measure.

The protesters were kept far away from Bush, but they were a major presence throughout other parts of the city, with their bullhorns, drums, whistles and chants hard to escape.

First lady Laura Bush told reporters that she has seen mostly friendly faces here.

"We actually have not seen that many protests," she said after touring an exhibit of Fabergé eggs in the Queen's Gallery of the palace museum. "I don't think the protests are near as large as everyone was predicting before we got here. We've seen plenty of American flags. We've seen plenty of people who were waving to us."

Bush has repeatedly dismissed the protests this week, calling them healthy signs of democratic freedoms of the sort that were unheard of in Iraq under Hussein's rule.

"Freedom is beautiful," Bush said yesterday, adding, "All I know is that people in Baghdad weren't allowed to do this until recent history."

At No. 10 Downing St., there also was some discontent over U.S. policies, but it was voiced in the quiet tones of diplomacy.

The two allies remained divided over a looming trans-Atlantic trade war triggered by U.S. tariffs on steel.

And Blair continued to press the president on the treatment of nine British nationals who are among the suspected terrorists held without charges in a U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Neither matter was settled, but Bush suggested that he was closer to a decision on the steel tariffs, which have been ruled illegal by the World Trade Organization.

British consumers are braced for a doubling of the prices on some U.S.-made goods if Bush refuses to rescind the tariffs.

The president and his wife began the day by meeting with about 15 relatives of British troops killed in Iraq.

"The families were very strong, they comforted us," Laura Bush said, adding, "Most of them said, 'Stay the course. Keep going.' "

Bush is scheduled today to fly to the northern England town of Sedgefield, which Blair has represented in Parliament for 20 years. The president concluded the London leg of his visit by hosting a dinner for Queen Elizabeth II at the residence of U.S. Ambassador William Farish.

A night after dining amid the majesty of Buckingham Palace, Bush brought some Texas flavor to last night's festivities, serving the queen fried tortillas and herb-crusted lamb with a fudge brownie pudding for dessert.

The New York Times News Service contributed to this report.