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March 20, 2003
 
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(AP Photo)
Bush: Troops Acting With 'Great Bravery'
President Bush Says U.S. Troops Have 'Performed With Great Skill and Great Bravery' in Gulf

The Associated Press


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WASHINGTON March 20

President Bush, leading the nation into war a second time, said U.S. troops had "performed with great skill and great bravery" in the opening hours of an attack against Iraq.

"We're confident we can achieve our objectives," said Bush, commander in chief of 300,000 troops massed in the Persian Gulf.

He spoke at a Cabinet meeting after U.S. officials, dismissing anti-war criticism from abroad, said explosions in Baghdad and U.S. artillery fire on Iraqi troops were a prelude to a massive assault on Iraq, due any time.

In his first public appearance since the war began, Bush did not assess the results nor did he take questions about the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein.

"There's no question we've sent the finest of our citizens into harm's way," he said. "They performed with great skill and great bravery."

Behind the scenes, White House officials said early reports from the battlefield were encouraging, raising hopes that senior Iraqi leaders may have been captured or killed, perhaps even Saddam.

While cautioning against speculation, government officials said intelligence information suggested that Iraq's leadership was in disarray after the attacks.

The administration raised doubts about whether television footage of Saddam was authentic. The speaker in the videotape mocked Bush and called the attack a "shameful crime."

"We have reached no conclusion about that tape or who was on the tape or when it was taped," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in a Pentagon news conference before meeting with Bush, also expressed skepticism about the tape.

Even as heavy detonations and the crackle of anti-aircraft fire rattled Baghdad, the White House said it was not too late for Saddam to seek exile. "It would be a welcome event if Saddam Hussein were still to flee," Fleischer said.

"He brought this on himself."

Bush called his Cabinet to the White House for a midafternoon war update. A day after warning Americans that conflict "could be long and more difficult than some expected," he urged his top officials to maintain a focus on his domestic agenda, including education, the economy and Medicare.

Leaders of Russia, China, France and scores of other nations reacted with criticism or regret to the U.S.-led war. The White House paid little heed.

"The president understands and respect the thoughts of those who disagree, but the United States and the coalition of willing will not be deterred from the mission to disarm Saddam Hussein," Fleischer said.

Bush made several telephone calls to world leaders, Fleischer said without specifying the recipients or the content of the conversations. Official news agency reports from Arab nations said Bush had called Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak; the emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and the king of Bahrain, Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, to discuss the military operation in Iraq.

Thirty police cars guarded the front entrances to the White House, where security was unusually intense hours after the first salvo in the war to disarm Iraq. Protesters, outnumbering the police cars by 2-1, stood in the chilly rain chanting, "No blood for oil."

Fleischer said Bush signed an execution order before Wednesday night's strikes and gave military leaders an oral go-ahead after lengthy meetings. He said he did not know when the written order was signed and whether it covered the entire war or just the first strikes.

Bush, who waged war against the Taliban in Afghanistan shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, awoke once again to war.

After a 6 a.m. EST call from National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, the president walked into the Oval Office at 6:50 a.m., his regular time.

He later met with national security aides, including CIA Director George Tenet who emerged from the White House chewing on his trademark cigar.

The attacks Wednesday night were not part of Bush's original war plans.

He decided to target Saddam after a hastily arranged White House meeting Wednesday afternoon, when Tenet told him U.S. intelligence believed it had a probable fix on the residence where Saddam and other Iraqi leaders would be sleeping, officials said.

Those other Iraqi leaders were believed to include Saddam's two sons, Qusai and Odai, who hold high-level security positions in Saddam's government.


photo credit and caption:
President Bush makes a statement to repoters following a Cabinet meeting Thursday, March 20, 2003, at the White House. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
 
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