Bush asks for £55bn war fund as he woos Europe

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The Independent US

President George Bush told the American people "we will spend what is necessary, to achieve victory in the war on terror" and announced he will ask Congress for $87 billion (£55bn) in new funding.

He also called for more international financial and military support. He said two multinational divisions, led by Britain and Poland, are serving alongside the United States, and that American commanders have requested a third multinational division.

"We are fighting the enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan today so that we do not meet him again on our own streets, in our own cities," the President said in a nationally-broadcast speech from the White House early today.

"Europe, Japan and states in the Middle East all will benefit from the success of freedom in those two countries, and they should contribute to that success," President Bush said.

Referring to France, Germany and Russia, Bush said that "not all of our friends agreed with our decision (to) ... remove Saddam Hussein from power. Yet we cannot let past differences interfere with present duties."

With his approval rating at its lowest since he took office in January 2001, Mr Bush was expected to plead for patience, more time and - most delicately - a lot more money.

As senior members of his administration flagged his remarks in a carefully orchestrated media blitz over the weekend, it became clear that US requests for military contributions from important United Nations members were relatively modest. According to Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, no more than 15,000 troops were needed to complement the 150,000 US soldiers already on the ground alongside 10,500 British troops.

Yesterday, about 120 British soldiers left their base in Cyprus for Iraq in the first of what was expected to be a series of new deployments.

General Powell, who consistently argued for a multilateral approach in Iraq, indicated in a television interview that troop numbers were less important than bringing the UN on board and broadening the scope of what until now has been seen as a US-led military occupation. "What we're really interested in ... is to get the international community to come together and participate in the political reconstruction of Iraq," he said.

President Bush pledged that the United States would not be intimidated into retreat by violence. "The terrorists have cited the examples of Beirut and Somalia, claiming that if you inflict harm on Americans we will run from a challenges. In this they are mistaken," he said.

It was President Bush's first major speech on Iraq since 1 May when he stood on the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln and declared an end to major combat operations. Since then, more Americans have died in Iraq than were killed during the war. The overall death count is 287, 149 since his declaration.

His remarks failed to still criticism from Democratic presidential hopefuls. "Now that the president has recognized that he has been going down the wrong path, this administration must begin the process of fully engaging our allies and sharing the burden of building a stable democracy in Iraq," said Rep. Dick Gephardt.

Howard Dean, another Democratic candidate, said Iraq had pulled the country's attention and resources away from homeland security and the economy.

Comparing Iraq with Vietnam, Dean said, "The government again is feeding misinformation to the American people in order to justify an enormous commitment of US troops."

The President described Iraq as the central front in the war against terror and said that "enemies of freedom are making a desperate stand there, and there they must be defeated.

"This will take time and require sacrifice," he said. "Yet we will do what is necessary, we will spend what is necessary, to achieve this essential victory in the war on terror, to promote freedom and to make our own nation more secure."

Two missiles were fired at a US transport plane taking off from Baghdad's airport yesterday, at the time that Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defence was leaving Iraq. The missiles missed their target.

The huge cost of maintaining the Iraq operation is a liability for the United States, which is running a record budget deficit. And the economic recovery, which the administration insists is taking place, is failing to stem the tide of mounting unemployment. Polls show that the economy is potentially a huge weakness for Mr Bush, just as it was for his father after the Gulf War 12 years ago.