We must not waver, says unapologetic Bush

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If President George Bush is apologetic about Iraq - for leading the country to war on false claims, for the hundreds of US troops who have died in pursuing that endeavour or else the thousands of Iraqi citizens killed - he does not show it.

If President George Bush is apologetic about Iraq - for leading the country to war on false claims, for the hundreds of US troops who have died in pursuing that endeavour or else the thousands of Iraqi citizens killed - he does not show it.

In a prime time televised news conference, Mr Bush insisted that while America was facing difficulties in Iraq, the only solution was for the country to stand firm behind him and the troops he commands.

Short on specifics and heavy on self-righteous zeal, Mr Bush said "we must not waver". He also said he could not think of any mistakes he had made. "There is no question it's been a tough, tough, tough series of weeks for the American people," he said. "It's been really tough for the families. I understand that. It's been tough on this administration. But we're doing the right thing." Speaking in the East Room of the White House, he added: "The enemies of the civilised world are testing the will of the civilised world."

Mr Bush's press conference on Tuesday night, came after the worst month for American casualties in Iraq, and in which many hundred Iraqi civilians have been killed in fighting after an uprising among supporters of a radical Shia cleric.

Reports from the besieged city of Fallujah - in which four American contractors were murdered and their bodies mutilated 10 days ago - say that hundreds of Iraqi civilians have been killed by US efforts to take the city.

Against this backdrop, public support for Mr Bush's policy in Iraq has been falling. A poll published at the weekend by Newsweek suggested that public approval for the president's handling of the war and the occupation was down from 51 per cent to 44 per cent.

Mr Bush's senior advisers decided he should make his case directly to the nation and state his intention to ensure the transfer of sovereignty to a provisional Iraqi government took place by its 30 June deadline. He did this, first with a stilted prepared speech and then in a more convincing question and answer session.

Despite the fact that Mr Bush's appearance was the result of a conscious decision to counter criticism about what has been happening in Iraq, the president claimed that he did not make the decision with an eye to popularity.

"As to whether or not I make decisions based on polls, I don't." he said. "I fully understand the consequences of what we're doing. We're changing the world. And the world will be better off. And America will be more secure as a result of what we're doing."

Mr Bush did make what his aides will consider some serious slips. He admitted, for instance, that the Iraqi people were "not happy they're occupied." He also claimed that even if had known before the invasion that no weapons of mass destruction would be found, "I still would've called upon the world to deal with Saddam Hussein" - an admission that will be seized on by his critics.

Mr Bush's presumed Democratic challenger in November, John Kerry, yesterday rounded on the president and his refusal to admit what was going wrong in Iraq.

Currently six points ahead in the polls, Mr Kerry said: "The president may refuse to acknowledge a single mistake in his presidency but with American sacrifices increasing, it's time he offered a specific plan that secures real international involvement, gets the target off the backs of our troops and starts to share the burden in Iraq."

'Vietnam analogy sends wrong message'

Question: Mr President, April is turning into the deadliest month in Iraq since the fall of Baghdad, and some people are comparing Iraq to Vietnam ... Polls show that support for your policy is declining and that fewer than half Americans now support it. What does that say to you and how do you answer the Vietnam comparison?

Answer: Yeah, I think the analogy is false. I also think that analogy is - sends the wrong message to our troops and sends the wrong message to the enemy ... Freedom is not easy to achieve. I mean, it's - we had a little trouble in our country achieving freedom."

Question: One of the biggest criticisms of you is that whether it's WMD in Iraq, postwar planning in Iraq or even the question of whether this administration did enough to ward off 9/11, you never admit a mistake. Is that a fair criticism?

Answer: ... the country wasn't on war footing. And yet we're at war. And that's just a reality. I mean that was the situation that existed prior to 9/11. Because the truth of the matter is, most of the country never felt that we'd be vulnerable to an attack such as the one that Osama bin Laden unleashed on us. We knew he had designs on us. We knew he hated us. But there was nobody in our government at least - and I don't think the prior government - could envision flying airplanes into buildings on such a massive scale.

The people know where I stand. I mean in terms of Iraq, I was clear about what I believed. And, of course, I want to know why we haven't found a weapon yet. But I still know Saddam Hussein was a threat. And the world is better off without Saddam Hussein. I don't think anybody can, maybe people can argue that. I know the Iraqi people don't believe they're better off with Saddam Hussein, would be better off with Saddam in power.