Washington, July 2 (Reuters): US President George W. Bush today had a tough message for Iraqi militants attacking US troops — “Bring them on” — and said the US military presence was sufficient to deal with the attackers.
Bush spoke in the face of increasing American concern about the rising casualty toll among US troops. At least 23 American servicemen have been killed by hostile fire since Bush declared major combat operations over on May 1.
“There are some who feel like that conditions are such that they can attack us there,” Bush said at the White House. “My answer is bring them on. We have the force necessary to deal with the situation.”
A senior Pentagon official said Gen. John Abizaid, who will take charge of the US central command next week, was studying whether to add forces, reposition them or use different types of troops in Iraq.
But he denied a report by the Philadelphia Inquirer that the U.S. administrator in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, had already requested additional military and civilian personnel to speed restoration of order and public services.
The United States blames the resistance on ousted President Saddam Hussein's Baath party loyalists, militants from the Ansar al-Islam group who have relocated to operate in the Sunni Muslim“heartland” of Iraq, and groups tied to al Qaeda associate Ayman al-Zawahiri.
”There's people there that (would) like to run us out of there, create the conditions where we get nervous and decide to leave. We're not going to get nervous,” Bush said.
Bush also said he had no doubt that Saddam had a program for weapons of mass destruction because Saddam used“chemical weapons on his own people.” He referred to gas attacks on Iraqi Kurds more than a decade ago.
He said it was“just a matter of time” before evidence was found of such weapons programs. The president justified the invasion partly on the imminent threat such weapons posed, but so far none have been discovered.
In any event, Bush said, Saddam was a threat to his own people based on the mass graves containing the remains of Saddam opponents that have been found.“We have uncovered some unbelievable scenes,” he said.
A USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll this week found that the share of Americans who said things were going well for U.S. forces in Iraq had dropped to 56 percent from 70 percent a month ago.
Bush, who on Tuesday said the United States faced a massive and long-term undertaking in Iraq, said Washington welcomed troop contributions from other countries but that the force there now was enough“to make sure the situation is secure.”
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said it was unclear how long U.S. troops would remain in Iraq except that it will be as long as it takes to restore security. Some members of Congress say U.S. troops could be there five years.
The United States and its allies have about 150,000 troops in Iraq and the Pentagon is considering whether it might need to increase that force.
Bush condemned militant attacks on electricity lines and other Iraqi infrastructure and vowed to deal harshly with those responsible.