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President Bush Defends Iraq War - 2004-06-17


Less than two-weeks before the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq's interim government, President Bush is defending his decision to go to war and oust Saddam Hussein.

On a day of more violence in Baghdad, President Bush tried to keep the focus on the long term objective.

He said, "Iraq will be free. And a free Iraq is in our nation's interest."

Speaking to reporters at the end of a meeting with his cabinet, Mr. Bush said a free Iraq will make the world more peaceful. He did not refer directly to the suicide bombing in Baghdad that claimed dozens of lives, but his meaning was clear.

"We fully understand terrorists will try to shake our will to try to shake our confidence, to try to get us to withdraw from commitments we have made in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. They will not succeed," he said.

The remarks came as the White House was confronting another apparent challenge to its rationale for war.

A staff report issued Wednesday by the commission investigating the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, said there was no evidence to support claims of a working relationship between the al-Qaida terrorist network and Saddam Hussein.

When asked about the report, President Bush said he never spoke of a direct link between the ousted Iraqi leader and the September 11th attacks. But he insisted Saddam Hussein had terrorist ties.

He said, "This administration never said that the 9-11 attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and al-Qaida. We did say there were numerous contacts between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida."

Earlier, White House spokesman Scott McClellan downplayed the findings of the commission staff, calling them consistent with the administration's views. He said Saddam Hussein's ties to terrorism were well known and long standing, noting the former Iraqi regime harbored terrorists, provided support to suicide bombers, and had high-level contacts with terrorist groups.

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