Bush Holds Firm on Iraq War

The United States invaded Iraq exactly five years ago. Speaking at the Pentagon, the president said increasing the pace of withdrawal could be a setback to progress.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

ALEX COHEN, host:

And I'm Alex Cohen.

Coming up on this fifth anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, we'll continue our conversation with General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and Coalition forces there.

CHADWICK: First, President Bush observed today's anniversary with a speech about the Iraq War at the Pentagon. The president's popularity has suffered, in large part because of the conflict, and he spoke to that.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Five years into this battle there is an understandable debate over whether the war was worth fighting, whether the fight is worth winning, and whether we can win it. The answers are clear to me. Removing Saddam Hussein from power was the right decision and this is a fight America can and must win.

COHEN: Most of his speech, though, was about successes in Iraq. Democracy, he said, is rising from the rubble of Saddam Hussein's tyranny.

CHADWICK: And despite the many calls to get out of Iraq, the president urged patience. Things are improving, he said, especially since the surge.

President BUSH: There's still hard work to be done in Iraq. The gains we have made are fragile and reversible. But on this anniversary the American people should know that since the surge began the level of violence is significantly down, civilian deaths are down, sectarian killings are down, attacks on American forces are down. We have captured or killed thousands of extremists in Iraq, including hundreds of key al-Qaida leaders and operatives. Our men and women in uniform are performing with characteristic honor and valor. The surge is working.

COHEN: As the president spoke, a group of 100 or so veterans gathered on the Mall in Washington D.C. to protest the war. A new CBS poll shows that two-thirds of Americans believe the war has not been worth what it has cost.

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Bush Holds Firm on Iraq as War Enters Sixth Year

On the fifth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, President Bush acknowledged Wednesday that there is "understandable debate" over the conflict. But the president said he would reject any additional troop withdrawals that could jeopardize security on the ground.

Speaking at the Pentagon to the military's top brass, soldiers and diplomats, Bush said increasing the pace of withdrawal could be a setback to progress made since the so-called "surge" — an infusion of 30,000 additional troops last year.

"Having come so far and achieved so much, we are not going to let this happen," he said, referring to a wider troop drawdown.

The president admitted that "there's an understandable debate over whether the war was worth fighting, whether the fight is worth winning, and whether we can win it.

"The answers are clear to me. Removing Saddam Hussein from power was the right decision, and this is a fight America can and must win," he said.

The speech to a largely sympathetic audience marked the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, a conflict that has lasted much longer and cost more lives than most administration officials and the American public had expected.

Nonetheless, Bush said, "The successes we are seeing in Iraq are undeniable."

Coalition forces have "removed a tyrant, liberated a country and rescued millions from unspeakable horrors," he said.

Democrats, however, used the anniversary to reassert accusations that the administration launched the Iraq invasion based on faulty intelligence, mismanaged the war and failed to put together an exit strategy.

So far, the war has cost about $500 billion, killed tens of thousands of Iraqis and nearly 4,000 American soldiers.

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