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President Bush says US forces will stay in Iraq until victory is achieved, and he's calling tomorrow's election an historic moment for that country and for the entire Middle East. The president spoke in Washington, delivering the last in a series of speeches highlighting progress being made in Iraq and aimed at winning back public support for the war. NPR's Don Gonyea reports from the White House.
DON GONYEA reporting:
For the president, this was speech number four on Iraq in two weeks. Past speeches focused on military strategy, on rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure and economy and on the establishment of democratic institutions. Today's remarks could be seen as a summation with a look ahead to tomorrow's voting.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: We are living through a watershed moment in the story of freedom. Most of the focus now is on this week's elections, and rightly so.
GONYEA: The president spoke at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, and early on, his tone somewhat subdued, he addressed the controversy over how the war began. He said there had been widespread international consensus that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, but that this information turned out to be wrong. He then added this.
Pres. BUSH: As president, I'm responsible for the decision to go into Iraq. And I'm also responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities, and we're doing just that.
GONYEA: Now it wasn't the first time the president has said the decision to go to war was his, but it was unusual for him to include the acknowledgement of error in a speech. Still, he insisted that intelligence was not manipulated to make the case for war, and he added that even with faulty intelligence, his decision was the right one.
The president rejected claims by his critics that the Iraq War has fueled terrorism and boosted recruitment by terrorist groups, just as he rejected any calls for a time line for a withdrawal of US troops.
(Soundbite of applause)
Pres. BUSH: Victory will be achieved by meeting certain objectives: when the the terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraq's democracy, when the Iraqi security forces can protect their own people and when Iraq is not a safe haven for terrorists to plot attacks against our country.
GONYEA: On multiple occasions today, the president said, in some form, that he will never accept anything less than complete victory in Iraq.
For the president, a lot is riding on tomorrow's voting in Iraq. He needs Americans to see Iraqis going to the polls as evidence that democracy is taking hold, but he also has to make sure American expectations remain realistic.
Pres. BUSH: We may not know for certain who's won the elections until the early part of January, and that's important for our citizens to understand. It's going to take a while. It's also going to take a while for them to form a government. The work ahead will require patience of the Iraqi people and require our patience as well.
GONYEA: The president also stressed that violence can be expected to continue even after the election. Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House.
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