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Bush slammed for Iraq link to 9/11

Bush waves at the end of his speech Tuesday at Fort Bragg.


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George W. Bush

(CNN) -- Critics of the U.S. war in Iraq have condemned President George W. Bush for attempting to link the insurgency there with the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.

In a televised address marking a year since the U.S. handover of sovereignty in Iraq, Bush urged Americans not to "forget the lessons of September 11."

Speaking before a military audience at Fort Bragg, North Carolina Tuesday, the president set out his strategy for victory against the insurgency, including foreign groups such as that led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

He also pledged that American troops would stay in Iraq until their job was done and that the U.S. would not "yield the future of the Middle East" to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terror network.

In a bid to shore up flagging domestic support for the war, Bush said the war against terror had "reached our shores" on September 11 and that sacrifices in Iraq were "vital to the future security of our country."

But Democrats accused the president of reviving a questionable link between Iraq and 9/11.

"I think the American people are a lot smarter than that," Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden said. "They've figured this out."

And in Britain, Lynne Jones, a lawmaker in Prime Minister Tony Blair's ruling Labour Party, said any attempt to suggest that Iraq was a response to the September 11 attacks was "absolute nonsense."

"There is absolutely no connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda," she said.

"What they have ensured, in invading Iraq, is they have actually promoted al Qaeda's involvement in other countries, including Iraq."

British MP George Galloway, who was expelled from Labour over his criticism of the war, said, "The truth is, as everyone can see, that Zarqawi and the other extremist formations that have sprouted in Iraq are the result of the invasion, not the reason for it.

"The swamp of hatred against the West has been vastly deepened by the actions of those two world leaders, Bush and Blair."

Australian opposition politicians said the speech reinforced fears that the conflict would drag on indefinitely.

"Iraq has been a conflict without timelines, without an exit strategy and indeed without a mission statement from day one," Labor Party spokesman Tom Cameron said.

"Australia needs to refocus on the region and the war on terror instead of getting bogged down in the bloody quagmire of Iraq's insurgency."

David Gergen, a political analyst who has worked in both Democratic and Republican administrations, said the speech was an attempt to "try to stop the slide" in public support.

"What he's playing for is time, so that there's not enormous pressure put on him to withdraw," Gergen told CNN.

Gergen pointed out that Bush never used the term "insurgent," referring to them instead as "terrorists."

"(September 11) has been all along his trump card," Gergen said. "He played it in the campaign; he's playing it again now."

Support for Bush's speech came from the governments of staunch U.S. allies Britain and Australia, who praised the president's pledge to keep forces in Iraq until the fight was won.

"It was a very good speech that highlighted the need to fight for freedom and democracy and the determination of the United States and our other coalition partners to win that fight," said Australia's acting prime minister, John Anderson, who was standing in while John Howard was on vacation. (Full story)

In Britain, which sent the second-largest contingent of troops to Iraq, Blair told the House of Commons Wednesday: "I was glad that we took the action we did."

'Reach out'

In his speech, Bush also rejected calls that the United States should send more troops to help put down the insurgency.

"Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight," he said.

"Sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever, when we are, in fact, working for the day when Iraq can defend itself."

Bush said Iraq has "more than 160,000 security forces trained," but Biden -- the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- said an overwhelming majority of those "have a long way to go."

"We have to do more to reach out and get the rest of the world in on the game," Biden said.

Bush asked for patience with the U.S. strategy, which he described as two-pronged -- with a military component to combat the insurgency and a political effort to build "the institutions of a free society."

"Our strategy can be summed up this way -- as the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down," he said.

While U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney last month told CNN that the Iraq insurgency was in its "last throes," the president said Tuesday that the United States had "more work to do."

"There will be tough moments that test America's resolve," he said. "We will not allow our future to be determined by car bombers and assassins."

Bush called the work in Iraq "difficult and dangerous."

"Like most Americans, I see the images of violence and bloodshed. Every picture is horrifying, and the suffering is real," he said. "It is worth it, and it is vital to the future security of our country."

Poll: Half of Americans doubt Iraq-9/11 link

The president faces an American public growing restless with Iraq.

According to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Monday, just 40 percent of those responding said they approved of Bush's handling of the war; 58 percent said they disapproved -- up 2 percentage points from May. (Full story)

Bush got higher ratings on how he is handling terrorism, with 55 percent approving and 41 percent disapproving.

The president made repeated references in his speech to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, calling Iraq "the latest battlefield" in the war on terrorism.

But Monday's poll found that half of Americans do not see the war in Iraq as part of the war on terror that began after September 11, 2001.

A third rationale for war in Iraq?

Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who ran for president against Bush last year, told CNN's "Larry King Live" that the speech offered a third rationale for the war in Iraq.

"The first, of course, was weapons of mass destruction. The second was democracy, and now, tonight, it's to combat the hotbed of terrorism," he said. "But most Americans are aware that the hotbed of terrorism never existed in Iraq until we got there."

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told "Larry King Live" he was satisfied Bush made his case.

"I think the president laid out tonight an excellent scenario of what the realities are and what we face. (The American people) needed that. Now we need to show some progress on the ground," he said.

There are about 138,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. More than 1,740 U.S. troops have died there since the war began in March 2003 -- 883 of them after last June's handover.

The Iraqi government has made key strides in the year since it regained sovereignty, including historic elections in January. But the fledgling country has seen no let-up in the insurgency.

Iraq's transitional administrative law calls for a new, permanent constitution to be prepared by August 15 and put to the voters in a referendum by October 15.

CNN's Dana Bash contributed to this report.

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