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Situation Report on Iraq

President Bush called an impromptu press conference to react to the surge in attacks against Iraqis cooperating with the coalition occupation authority in Baghdad. Bush insisted that the U.S. must not be deterred from its reconstruction mission. Senate leaders provided their own interpretations of the president's progress.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    The president spoke about Iraq and terrorism from the White House Rose Garden this morning.

  • PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

    After decades of oppression and brutality in Iraq and Afghanistan, reconstruction is difficult, and freedom still has its enemies in both of those countries. These terrorists are targeting the very success and freedom we're providing to the Iraqi people. Their desperate attacks on innocent civilians will not intimidate us or the brave Iraqis and Afghans who are joining in their own defense and who are moving toward self-government.

  • REPORTER:

    You just spoke about the suicide bombers in Iraq as being "desperate." But as yesterday's attacks show, they're also increasingly successful, and seem to be trying to send a warning to institutions like the police and the Red Cross not to cooperate with the United States.

  • PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

    Yeah.

  • REPORTER:

    Has the United States been able to identify who is behind this surge of attacks, where they come from, and how to stop them?

  • PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

    Yeah. Yeah, I think it's a very interesting point you make in your question: They're trying to send a warning. Basically what they're trying to do is … is cause people to run. They want to kill and create chaos. That's the nature of a terrorist. That's what terrorists do. They commit suicide acts against innocent people, and then expect people to say, "Well, gosh, we better not try to fight you anymore."

    The … we're trying to determine the nature of who these people were, but I will tell you, I would assume that they're either/or, and probably both, Baathists and foreign terrorists. The Baathists try to create chaos and fear because they realize that a free Iraq will deny them the excessive privileges they had under Saddam Hussein. The foreign terrorists are trying to create conditions of fear and retreat because they fear a free and peaceful state in the midst of a part of the world where terror has found recruits. That freedom is exactly what terrorists fear the most.

  • REPORTER:

    If there are foreign terrorists involved, why aren't Syria and Iran being held accountable?

    Yeah. Well, we're working closely with those countries to let them know that we expect to enforce borders, prevent people from coming across borders, if in fact we catch them doing that.

  • REPORTER:

    Mr. President, if I may take you back to May 1, when you stood on the U.S.S. Lincoln under a huge banner that said "mission accomplished." At that time, you declared major combat operations were over. Will you acknowledge now that you were premature in making those remarks?

  • PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

    We had just come off a very successful military operation. I was there to thank the troops. The "mission accomplished" sign, of course, was put up by the members of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, saying that their mission was accomplished. I know it was attributed somehow to some ingenious advanceman from my staff. They weren't that ingenious, by the way.

    But my statement was a clear statement, basically recognizing that this phase of the war for Iraq was over and there as a lot of dangerous work, and it's proved to be right. It is dangerous in Iraq. It is dangerous in Iraq because there are some who believe that our … that we're soft, that the will of the United States can be shaken by suiciders, and suiciders who are willing to drive up to a Red Cross center, a center of international help and aid and comfort, and just kill.

    It's the same mentality, by the way, that attacked us in … on Sept. 11, 2001. "We'll just destroy innocent life, and watch the great United States and their friends and allies, you know, crater in the face of hardship." Our strategy in Iraq is to … is to have our strike forces ready and capable to move quickly as we gather actionable intelligence. That's how you deal with terrorists. Remember, these are people that are willing to hide in societies and kill randomly. And therefore, the best way to deal with them is to harden targets, harden assets as best as you can.

  • BILL PLANTE:

    In recent weeks, you and your White House team have made a concerted effort to put a positive spin on progress in Iraq. And at the same time, there's been a much more somber assessment in private, as with Secretary Rumsfeld's memo. And there are people out there who don't believe that the administration is leveling with them about the difficulty and scope of the problem in Iraq.

  • PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

    Iraq is a dangerous place. That's leveling. It is a dangerous place. What I was saying is there's more than just terrorist attacks that are taking place in Iraq. There's schools opening. There are hospitals opening. The electricity … the capacity to deliver electricity to the Iraqi people is back up to prewar levels, where nearly two million barrels of oil a day are being produced for the Iraqi people. I was just saying, "Well, we've got to look at the whole picture — that what the terrorists would like is for people to focus only on the conditions which create fear"– that is, the death and the toll being taken. That's their strategy. And it's a pretty clear strategy to me. And this country will stay the course. We must never forget the lessons of Sept. 11. The terrorists will strike, and they will kill innocent life, not only in front of a Red Cross headquarters. They will strike and kill in America too.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    This afternoon, the two leaders of the United States Senate reacted to the president's Iraq comments. First: Democratic leader Tom Daschle, followed by the Republican leader Bill Frist.

  • SEN. TOM DASCHLE:

    We are very, very saddened and alarmed at the loss of life. The Red Cross in particular has been extraordinarily compassionate, humanitarian, and effective in providing help. And for this atrocity to have occurred is a terrible reminder of how dangerous Iraq remains. I was very troubled by the president's statement about what it means. If this is progress, I don't know how much more progress we can take. I would also say that there is a growing credibility gap between what is said and what is being done. And I think the president needs to be very careful about remarks and characterizations that minimize losses of this magnitude.

  • REPORTER:

    Is it your view that progress is not being made, or were you just criticizing his apparent linkage yesterday with the Red Cross bombing? What about progress?

  • SEN. TOM DASCHLE:

    I was criticizing the linkage. I do believe, however, that we've got to be very careful about making pronouncements of progress without more definitive evidence that progress truly exists.

  • REPORTER:

    Do you draw any conclusions from these incidents in recent days about some kind of change in policy that's necessary? Or do you think it speaks to the underlying policy that Bush is pursuing?

  • SEN. TOM DASCHLE:

    Well, I think what it demands is what we have said now for a long period of time. It demands a plan. We have never heard from the administration what is the plan. In fact, just last week, Secretary Rumsfeld said there is no yardstick, and questioned whether we were making any progress in the war on terror, both in Iraq as well as in Afghanistan. If anything bears that out, it's the events of the last 48 hours.

  • SEN. BILL FRIST:

    The previous statements of the president, that much of what we see may well be an act of desperation, is something that I share. I don't know that for a fact.

  • REPORTER:

    Do you also share the president's view that it's actually progress in the war with Iraq that has spurred this recent violence?

  • SEN. BILL FRIST:

    I don't know. I don't … I don't know whether this is progress. I wouldn't say that this is … it's progress that is in any way precipitating the violence. I do … as I said or implied, this well could be acts of desperation. People see that electricity is now up above prewar levels; that for the first time in almost a full generation, women have rights that they did not have before; that commerce has returned to the main streets of Baghdad for the first time. And that is all progress. It's progress that we know is occurring. At the same time, we have the tragedies that are occurring there, and I'm not … not sure how well. None of us can really link those two together. I think we know it's going to be a long battle. We're fighting terrorists. We're fighting remnants of a band of people who, because of the nature of the war, we know are entrenched in certain parts of that country.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Frist said he expected a final House-Senate agreement in the next day or two on that $87 billion package to continue U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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