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Bush: 'What we're doing in Iraq is right'
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By Scott Lindlaw
April 11, 2004 | FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) -- President Bush on Sunday braced the country for the possibility of more American casualties in Iraq while saying the U.S.-led mission is just. "Obviously every day I pray there is less casualty, but I know what we are doing in Iraq is right," Bush said after attending an Easter service at a chapel on this sprawling base that has 12,000 troops now in Iraq. At least nine died in Iraq in the past week.
"It was a tough week last week and my prayers and thoughts are with those who pay the ultimate price for our security," the president said.
"Today, on bended knee, I thanked the good Lord for protecting those of our troops overseas," he said before heading to a military hospital to meet with wounded soldiers who have returned recently from Iraq. Bush made no remarks as he left the hospital, where he met with 11 soldiers, awarding Purple Heart medals to 10 of them.
In fighting across Iraq over the past week, almost 50 American soldiers and more than 550 Iraqis have been killed. At least 649 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.
Bush said it was "hard to tell" whether Americans should expect to see more of the kind of deadly weeks that the military just sustained. But, he said, "We're plenty tough."
Bush said he had spoken twice in the past few days with Gen. John Abizaid, the overall commanded (sic) of the Iraq war, and that Abizaid "knows full well when he speaks to me, if he needs additional manpower, he can ask for it."
Abizaid said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" that 129,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has indicated that U.S. commanders want to hold that level for some time rather than reduce to 115,000 as previously planned.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said the past week of spiraling violence suggests more troops are needed.
"It's clear that we're stretched, and the Iraqi security are not prepared yet to fight and to turn back insurgents," Chairman Richard Lugar of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee told "Fox News Sunday."
Looking to the administration's June 30 deadline for turning over sovereignty to the Iraqis, Lugar said: "It's a short period of time. Credibility is at stake. Now, that means you devote whatever you need to it and make sure it gets done."
Fellow Republican Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine., echoed worries about troop levels and said the administration may need to reconsider the June 30 date.
"I don't see how you can possibly transfer power in fewer than 90 days when we have such an unstable security situation," Collins said on ABC's "This Week."
Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden, who has pressed for more troops, also said the administration needs to do a better job of reaching out to the world for help.
On CBS' "Face the Nation," Biden said French President Jacques Chirac has told him that France would send troops as part of a NATO contingent, as long as the United States had relinquished control to an international body, such as the United Nations.
Bush blamed the increased violence on "people trying to stop progress toward democracy" and "the violence was thrust upon innocent Iraqis."
For a second straight year, Bush celebrated Easter at Fort Hood, making the 50-mile helicopter flight from his Crawford ranch. It was the president's first public appearance since he arrived for an Easter break on his ranch on April 5.
Thirty-one troops from Fort Hood who were wounded in a firefight in Baghdad last week were airlifted back to the central Texas base for medical treatment and family reunions.
"I value my time with family members of those who have sacrificed on behalf of the country and today I ask for God's blessing for troops overseas," Bush said.
Accompanying the president on the half-day trip were his wife, mother-in-law, twin daughters and his parents.
Fort Hood is the largest active duty armored post in the military, covering 339 square miles.