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Bush lines up Iraq pep-talk for America

Washington/Baghdad, Sept. 7 (Reuters): President George W. Bush was set today to tell Americans they must stay the course in Iraq and to appeal for more international help to suppress hostile activity highlighted by a failed missile attack on an American plane at Baghdad airport.

Bush, whose conduct of the Iraqi occupation has come under fire amid mounting US casualties, a growing price tag, and internal violence, was to make a 15-minute televised address to Americans starting at 0030 GMT tomorrow.

“The President is going to tell the American people tonight that we are still in the midst of the war on terrorism, that Iraq is a central battle in the war on terrorism,” national security adviser Condoleezza Rice told Fox News Sunday.

The problems in Iraq have hit Bush’s poll ratings as the President heads into his 2004 re-election campaign and the speech, days ahead of the second anniversary of the September 11 attacks, aims to reassure Americans about the Iraq mission.

Bush’s speech will also outline a need for more money from Congress to fund the Iraq occupation, US secretary of state Colin Powell said on NBC, but it was unclear whether he would give specific numbers. The President is said to be considering a request for around $65 billion, although some sources said it could expand to $80 billion.

With most nations wary of sending troops to Iraq under US leadership, it was left to Washington’s most faithful ally, London, once again to take a symbolic lead. Only 120 soldiers flew in from Cyprus to British-controlled southern Iraq but the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair, mocked by critics as a poodle of Bush, is considering sending up to 3,000 more troops to swell its 11,000-strong contingent.

The dangers of occupying Iraq were highlighted again at the weekend when guerrillas fired several missiles at a US transport plane taking off from Baghdad but failed to hit it.

The incident, confirmed by the military today, took place hours before US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld flew out of Baghdad yesterday. It was the third such attack since May 1, when Washington said major combat in Iraq was over.

The US, which has some 130,000 troops in Iraq, wants other nations to send up to 15,000 soldiers, on top of the 9,000 already in Iraq alongside US and British forces. Washington has proposed a draft UN resolution to mandate a larger multinational force to occupy Iraq. “We are not expecting this new resolution to cause a large number of additional troops to be added from the international community. I would guess that perhaps there are 10,000 to 15,000 more who might be made available,” Powell said on NBC television’s Meet the Press.

“What we’re really interested in, in this resolution, is to get the international community to come together and participate in the political reconstruction of Iraq.”

But anti-war trio France, Germany and Russia say the resolution does not give enough control to the UN and puts too little emphasis on handing over power to Iraqis.

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