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Bush backs ‘courageous’ Rumsfeld
‘Nation owes you a debt of gratitude’

Washington, May 10 (Reuters): US President George W. Bush strongly backed Donald Rumsfeld today and said the nation owed him a debt of gratitude, countering calls by some Democrats for the defence secretary to resign over his handling of the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal.

After a meeting with Rumsfeld, military leaders and other top administration officials at the Pentagon, Bush told Rumsfeld: “Thank you for your leadership. You are courageously leading our nation in the war against terror.”

“You’re doing a superb job. You’re a strong secretary of defence and our nation owes you a debt of gratitude,” Bush said.

Bush promised “a full accounting” of abuse of Iraqi prisoners by their American guards in a scandal that has angered the Arab world.

“Because America is committed to the equality and dignity of all people, there will be a full accounting for the cruel and disgraceful abuse of Iraqi detainees,” Bush said in remarks at the Pentagon.

“The conduct that has come to light is an insult to the Iraqi people and an affront to the most basic standards and decency,” he added. Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney received a briefing from Rumsfeld and top US military officers after Bush publicly apologised last week for the scandal, triggered by photographs of naked Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

Bush noted that seven US troops had already been charged in an ongoing investigation, stressing that “the Iraqi people need to know that our coalition is fully committed to their independence, that we are fully committed to their national dignity.”

“We have great respect for the people of Iraq and for all Arab peoples, respect for their culture and for their history and for the contributions they can make to the world,” he said.

Congressional and administration leaders announced last week that Bush had decided to ask for an additional $25 billion to support US military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Bush said he hoped lawmakers would approve the request.

“The United States has a vital national interest in the success of free institutions in Iraq as the alternative to tyranny and terrorist violence in West Asia,” he said.

Bush took no questions from reporters after speaking next to Rumsfeld’s office. The defence secretary said last week that he would resign if he felt he could not effectively lead the Pentagon, but that he had no intention of quitting “simply because people try to make a political issue out of it.” Bush said US forces in Iraq were keeping up pressure to quash opposition from militia supporters of Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in Najaf.

Sadr ordered his Mehdi Army to launch a broad new offensive against US-led occupying forces following a crackdown.

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