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January 26, 2005

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Tuesday, August 19

Future of Iraq and Bush now more intertwined than ever

By Chuck Raasch | GNS

WASHINGTON - President Bush maintained Tuesday that Iraq remains on "an irreversible course toward self government and peace," but it was hard to see the road ahead in the smoke and debris of the bombed-out United Nations headquarters in Baghdad.

Now approaching four months since Bush declared the end to major hostilities, Iraq has become a diplomatic and political hot spot for the president. His political future and Iraq's are becoming more intertwined by the day. Critics are getting louder and the possibility that an unstable Iraq will be an election-year debate point appears more likely with the continuing violence and instability.

Two important public opinion questions emerge from the bombing's aftermath:

- Will Iraqis recoil at the killing of innocent third parties - U.N. aid workers - or will they see the bombing as a legitimate response to postwar frustrations at occupying powers?

- And what will happen to American "will" - Bush's word - in maintaining troops and reconstruction efforts as a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq becomes ever bloodier and a target for terrorists?

A grim-faced Bush attempted to address both audiences in a short statement from Texas, where he is vacationing.

``We will persevere through every hardship, we will continue this war on terror until the killers are brought to justice,'' Bush said of the United States and its allies.

He said Iraqis ``who want peace and freedom must reject'' the terrorists who ``have shown contempt for the innocent.''

``These killers will not determine the future of Iraq,'' Bush said.

Repeating a phrase he has often used since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks at the Pentagon and in New York City, Bush said the attackers ``reveal themselves once more as enemies of the civilized world'' by killing people who were in Iraq ``on a purely humanitarian mission.''

Bush declared on May 1 the end of major combat operations in Iraq. But in the months since then, the country has been inflamed by terrorist attacks on U.S. troops and civilians, discontent with the pace of reconstruction and an ongoing debate about whether the United States, Britain and its allies had sufficient evidence to see Saddam as a terrorist-war threat.

A new missive supposedly from an al-Qaida spokesman on Monday called for further attacks on Americans in Iraq.

Some Democrats seeking to challenge Bush in the presidential election next year have increasingly questioned the evidence that led up to the war and the lack of discovery of weapons of mass destruction. Among the top candidate-critics is Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., a longtime senior member of the intelligence committee.

On Tuesday, Graham said Bush ``misled'' Americans in the May 1 declaration and that the administration ``was totally unprepared for stabilization efforts in Iraq.

``President Bush correctly called this an act of terrorism,'' Graham said. ``The question is whether it could have been prevented. Had the president pursued the war on terrorism prior to initiating military action against Saddam Hussein, as I advocated last year, it is likely that al-Qaida and other terrorist networks would not have been able to take advantage of the chaos that now exists in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq.''