Bush defiant as polls dip over fears on exit strategy

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The Independent US

Amid declining public support for his Iraq policy and fiercecriticism from Democrats, George Bush vowed yesterday to stay the course in Iraq, insisting he would not be deflected by the violence and anarchy across the country.

"Our resolve is firm, and we will prevail," Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, said after Mr Bush had been briefed on the fighting in Ramadi and Fallujah, in which at least 12 US servicemen died.

But the increasingly bitter political argument at home has prompted Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, to make a rare foray into domestic politics.

Berating Senator Edward Kennedy for his description of Iraq as "George Bush's Vietnam", General Powell noted the country was at war and said the Massachusetts senator should be "more restrained and careful" in his comments.

The worsening situation in Iraq now threatens to undo the Bush campaign's recent successes against John Kerry, the man almost certain to be Democratic nominee to fight the November election.

According to one recent poll, 57 per cent of Americans still think it was right to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein. But a survey yesterday for the Wall Street Journal, taken even before this week's bloody fighting, showed a 55-43 majority disapproving of Mr Bush's handling of the crisis.

Mr Kerry voted for the war in October 2002 but aimed criticism at Mr Bush's handling of the conflict in recent months.

Democrats are hard pressed to find an alternative strategy. Virtually everyone agrees the US cannot cut and run, and even Democrats who want the United Nations to take the central role acknowledge that it is easier said than done. In a radio interview yesterday, Mr Kerry accused Mr Bush of setting the 30 June power transfer deadline for political reasons. "There are so many things you could do differently in Iraq that it's hard to know where to begin," he said.

Mr Kerry argues that more troops are needed in Iraq, but the Pentagon says commanders in the field have not asked for an increase to the force of 135,000. Mr Bush's difficulties over Iraq have been compounded by a new book which claims there was a family split over the war, with George Bush Snr, father of the President and architect of the 1991 Gulf War to dislodge Saddam's army from Kuwait, apparently opposing the invasion. According to The Bushes: Portrait of a Dynasty, by Peter and Rochelle Schweizer, Mr Bush Snr expressed "anguish" in the summer of 2002 about the war preparations under way

Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said last night that "relatively small numbers of people" were causing the violence. "You have a mixture of a small number of terrorists, a small number of militias, coupled with some demonstrations and some lawlessness. And it's a serious problem. And the problem's being worked.

"This is an important moment in Iraq's history. The future of the Iraqi people is certainly at stake. So the stakes are high. They're high for Iraq, they're high for the region and indeed they're high for the world."