Bush says Iraq policies are working

By Finlay Lewis

June 21, 2005

WASHINGTON – President Bush offered an upbeat assessment yesterday of U.S. military operations in Iraq even as he acknowledged that the bloody toll there weighs on him daily.

Appearing at a White House news conference with two leaders of the European Union, Bush sought to shore up sagging domestic public support by arguing that his policies are leading to a political solution in Iraq and that the Iraqis themselves would be capable of defending it.

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"I think about Iraq every day, every single day, because I understand we have troops in harm's way, and I understand how dangerous it is there," the president said.

With the majority of Americans telling pollsters administration policies in Iraq have failed to make the United States more secure, Bush seemed to be pleading for patience by arguing that the country's investment in blood and treasure will pay off.

"We're making progress toward the goal, which is, on the one hand, a political process moving forward in Iraq, on the other hand, the Iraqis capable of defending themselves," Bush said. "And the report from the field is that while it's tough, more and more Iraqis are becoming battle-hardened and trained to defend themselves; and that's exactly the strategy that's going to work; and it is going to work."

Flanked by Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, Bush also defended U.S. detention policies at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and other war-on-terror prisons. He invited reporters to inspect the Guantanamo facility for themselves.

Juncker currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.

Reports that U.S. military guards have abused prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere have been blamed for helping turn public opinion across the Islamic world and elsewhere against U.S. prosecution of the war on terror. However, the detainee issue was not raised by the two visiting EU officials but by a European reporter, who asked Bush whether the United States is turning its back on human rights.

Bush pledged to abide by U.S. court rulings affecting the status of the estimated 550 prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay. At the same time, he indicated that it might be a long wait before some of them are released.

"Make no mistake, however, that many of those folks being detained – in humane conditions, I might add – are dangerous people," Bush said, adding, "I have an obligation, as do all of us who are holding office, to protect our people."

The meeting was held about two weeks before Bush is to sit down in Scotland at an economic summit with the world's great industrial powers, including the EU. One of the main issues on the agenda will involve increasing the commitment of the rich nations to improving the lot of those living in impoverished countries, particularly Africa, through increased foreign aid and trade.

The only reference to that issue during the news conference was by Barroso, who said the estimated daily death of 25,000 people worldwide to starvation is "a shame of our generation." He compared it to the tolerance of slavery by earlier generations.

"There are enough resources in the world," he said. "What we need is political will and good organization."

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