07 April 2004
President Bush has discussed the fighting in Iraq with his national security team. Mr. Bush also telephoned British Prime Minister Tony Blair before meetings between the two leaders next week in Washington.
President Bush chaired a meeting of his national security team over a secure video link from his Texas ranch. Included in the discussion of fighting in Iraq were U.S. military commander John Abizaid and civilian administrator Paul Bremer.
White House officials say the president has received updates on U.S. military operations in Fallujah and will continue to be advised "as warranted."
Mr. Bush telephoned Prime Minister Blair to discuss Iraq before his trip to the United States next week. British officials say the prime minister will meet April 15 with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to discuss the U.N. role in a planned handover of power in Iraq. He will meet with President Bush at the White House the following day.
Both Washington and London are dismissing suggestions that this is a "crisis meeting." Heavy fighting with militiamen loyal to a Shiite cleric has raised questions about plans for handing over power in less than 90 days.
Speaking Tuesday at a community college in the southern state of Arkansas, President Bush said continuing violence in Iraq is a fight for freedom.
We got tough work there because you see there are terrorists there who would rather kill innocent people than allow for the advance of freedom. That is what you are seeing going on. These people hate freedom and we love freedom, and that is where the clash occurs.
President Bush said there will be no going back on the deadline for handing over power to a new Iraqi government.
It is going to take a while for them to understand what freedom is all about, Mr. Bush said. We will pass sovereignty on June 30. We will stay the course in Iraq. We are not going to be intimidated by thugs or assassins. We are not going to cut and run from the people who long for freedom because, you know what? We understand that a free Iraq is an historic opportunity to help change the world to be more peaceful. That is what we understand in this country.
The president says Iraq is the central front in the fight against terrorism. His presumptive Democratic challenger in this year's election, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, says Mr. Bush misled the nation into war over the immediacy of the threat from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
None of those weapons has yet been found. The former chief U.S. inspector says pre-war intelligence on Iraqi chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons was "almost all wrong."
More than 600 U.S. troops have died in Iraq, more than two-thirds of them since the president declared an end to major combat operations 11 months ago. Asked if the current fighting signaled a resumption of "major combat," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, "I would not describe it that way."