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Inside Politics

Bush: War not inciting terrorists

'I do believe the world is a safer place'


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In an interview with Irish television ahead of a U.S.-EU summit, U.S. President George W. Bush defended his stance on Iraq and said the war has not incited terrorists.

Bush leaves Friday for Ireland, where he will meet with European Union leaders Saturday before heading to Turkey for a NATO summit. Ireland currently holds the rotating six-month presidency of the EU.

In the sometimes combative interview with Irish network RTE -- the president at one point asking the interviewer to let him finish his answers -- Bush disputed the suggestion that the world is more dangerous with the focus on Iraq instead of Afghanistan and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

"On September 11, 2001, we were attacked in an unprovoked fashion -- everybody thought the world was calm," the president told RTE's Carole Coleman at the White House.

"There [have] been bombings since then, not because of my response to Iraq. There were bombings in Madrid. There were bombings in Istanbul. There were bombings in Bali. There were killings in Pakistan."

Hundreds of people died in those attacks, which targeted Western interests or U.S. allies in the war on terrorism.

"I do believe the world is a safer place and becoming a safer place," the president said. "I know that a free Iraq is going to be necessary -- part of changing the world.

"People join terrorist organizations because there's no hope and there's no chance to raise their families in a peaceful world where there is not freedom ... so the idea is to promote freedom and at the same time protect our security.

Bush's comments came on a day where coordinated insurgent attacks in five Iraqi cities killed about 100 people, including civilians, Iraqi security service members and three U.S. troops.

"These people are willing to kill innocent people. They're willing to slaughter innocent people to stop the advance of freedom," Bush said.

"So the free world has to make a choice. Do we cower in the face of terror or do we lead in the face of terror? I'm going to lead in the face of terror. We will not let these terrorists dash the hopes and ambitions of the people of Iraq."

Bush appeared frustrated when Coleman interrupted him as he was talking about the Middle East.

"Please, please, for a minute, okay?" Bush said "It'd be better if you'd let me finish my answers and then you can follow up if you don't mind."

In Ireland, Bush will meet with Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, European Commission President Romano Prodi and EU security chief Javier Solana at Dromoland Castle near Shannon in the southwest of the island.

Thousands of protesters are expected in assemble in Dublin and in Shannon near the summit site. Ireland will deploy 6,000 police and troops to protect Bush and the EU leaders.

Further polarizing Irish public opinion against the war has been the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

The president said the actions of a handful of troops should not be allowed to sully the image of a whole nation.

"I hope the Irish people understand the great values of our country," Bush said, "and if they think that a few soldiers represent the entirety of America, they really don't understand America then."


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