| A US soldier prays during a service at an army base in Tikrit. (Reuters)
Washington, Sept. 8 (Reuters): President George W. Bush, facing growing doubts at home, asked Congress last night for $87 billion for the US military and reconstruction in Iraq and urged the UN to set aside past differences and help out.
“This undertaking is difficult and costly, yet worthy of our country, and critical to our security,” Bush said in an 18-minute prime-time address aimed at reassuring Americans jittery about scenes of chaos and daily attacks against US troops in Iraq.
As the country prepares to mark the second anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks, Bush asked Americans for patience and cautioned more casualties should be expected in the face of guerrillas who “want us to leave Iraq before our work is done.”
“Enemies of freedom are making a desperate stand there — and there they must be defeated. This will take time, and require sacrifice. Yet we will do what is necessary, we will spend what is necessary, to achieve this essential victory in the war on terror,” he said.
The president offered no timetable on withdrawing the troops, nor did he say how close the US-led occupation force might be to finding weapons of mass destruction. He said the current deployment of 130,000 US troops should be sufficient.
However, in Baghdad today two US soldiers were wounded when their convoy struck an explosive device on a bridge.
Bush said he would soon submit to Congress a request for $87 billion and that it would include some assistance for Afghanistan. The $87 billion includes $66 billion for the US military deployment and intelligence operations, Bush said. It would push the nation’s budget deficit to well above the half-trillion-dollar mark for the first time.
After the bitter UN dispute over whether to go to war in Iraq, Bush sounded a conciliatory tone as he sought to get Security Council backing for a new UN resolution that would establish a multinational force.
It was a shift from Bush’s insistence that the US and Britain would take the lead role in Iraq. So far anti-war powers France, Germany and Russia want more UN control than Bush is offering.
“I recognise that not all our friends agreed with our decision to enforce the Security Council resolutions and remove Saddam Hussein from power. Yet we cannot let past differences interfere with present duties,” Bush said.
Secretary of state Colin Powell said he expected up to 15,000 new foreign troops to join the occupation.
Bush’s speech was the most public acknowledgment of dashed hopes for a rapid transition to a peaceful, self-governing Iraq, as forecast by such administration hawks as defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz and vice-president Dick Cheney.
The president struck a sombre tone in the White House Cabinet Room, in contrast to the celebratory “Mission Accomplished” speech he gave aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1 when he declared major combat operations over in Iraq.
He is coming under criticism from Democratic candidates for president as he gears up for his re-election campaign. His poll numbers have eroded. A CNN/Time poll said his approval had dropped to 52 per cent, down from the 60-70 per cent range he had enjoyed in recent months.
Bush, who went to war over weapons of mass destruction that have never been found and who insisted Iraq had ties to al Qaida that have never been substantiated, said Iraq has now become the “central front” in the war on terrorism triggered by the September 11, 2001, attacks.
The $87 billion figure was at the high end of expectations. Some members of Congress said they expected Bush to get what he asked for but wanted him to detail how long US troops would remain in Iraq and outline a strategy for bringing them home.
“We must keep this commitment in Iraq. It’s going to be hard. I will support him. I will support spending that money,” Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on CNN.