| George W. Bush in St Louis, Missouri. (AFP)
St Louis (Missouri), Aug. 27 (Reuters): US President George W. Bush yesterday vowed “there will be no retreat” from Iraq as he sought to defend the US occupation amid mounting criticism and a post-war US death toll that now surpasses invasion losses.
“Retreat in the face of terror would only invite further and bolder attacks,” Bush told the American Legion military veterans group. “There will be no retreat. We are on the offensive against the Saddam loyalists, the foreign fighters, and the criminal gangs that are attacking Iraqis and coalition forces.”
US central command said today that one soldier was killed and three were wounded in a blast in the town of Falluja, a hotbed of guerrilla violence west of Baghdad. Witnesses said a US convoy had driven over landmines planted on a road.
An American soldier was killed in another attack on a convoy, the US military said.
The total number of US soldiers who have died in Iraq since the start of May now exceeds the number who lost their lives during the invasion and occupation of the country in March and April. The figures reflect deaths from combat and non-hostile causes.
New doubts about the US mission and speculation over an influx of foreign fighters were fuelled by the bombing last week of UN headquarters in Iraq, which killed 23 people.
After Bush’s speech, two US senators said the President failed to adequately address what was at stake.
“This is going to take years and hundreds of billions of dollars... and hundreds of thousands of troops to sustain this effort,” Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel said on PBS’ NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.
“The President... must come before the American people and say that.”
Senator Joe Biden, a Delaware Democrat, said a failed occupation would provide a “breeding ground” for terror that could lead to the collapse of Gulf states and possibly Egypt.
Iraq’s reconstruction after the ouster of Saddam Hussein would require “substantial” time and resources, Bush said.
Faced with calls by lawmakers of both parties to significantly increase troop levels in Iraq, Bush said he would “challenge” more countries to join the US-led occupation coalition. However, a new UN mandate on troop recruitment has stalled amid US opposition to giving the international body more decision-making power in Iraq.
Bush also said he would work with Congress to provide the needed resources for the occupation.
Congressional sources said the White House was considering seeking an extra $2 billion to $3 billion to shore up reconstruction efforts in the near term.
Bush said that post-Saddam Iraq had become a battleground against militant networks, and that by fighting against such groups in Iraq and other foreign countries, American forces were helping prevent attacks within the US.