LANCASTER, United States (AFP) – President George W. Bush rejected calls by opposition Democrats for an early withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, warning such a move could result in a “terrorist state” with vast oil reserves.
Those who say the United States should leave Iraq are “wrong,” Bush said.
“Leaving before we complete our mission would create a terrorist state in the heart of the Middle East, a country with huge oil reserves that the terrorist network would be willing to use to extract economic pain from those of us who believe in freedom,” the president said at a fundraising event for the Republican candidate for governor of Pennsylvania, former football star Lynn Swann.
The war in Iraq is a major political issue for the November 7 legislative and gubernatorial elections, with opposition Democrats calling for the start of a US withdrawal and opinion polls showing public disquiet over the US presence in Iraq.
Bush’s Republican party, anxious to retain its majority in Congress, and his administration have set out to persuade American voters that Iraq is part of the “war on terror.” They hope to repeat previous successes in elections in 2002 and 2004 when voters expressed more confidence in Bush and the Republicans to safeguard the country against possible terrorist attack.
“The central front on the war on terror, now, is Iraq,” Bush told the partisan audience.
“If we were to leave before the mission is complete, it would hurt US credibility,” he added. “Who would want to stand with the United States of America if we didn’t complete the mission, and a mission that can be completed and will be completed?”
Earlier on Wednesday, the White House flatly denied reports that Bush was frustrated with Iraqis and their prime minister, and rejected the notion that Iraq has plunged into civil war.
The New York Times, citing anonymous participants in Bush’s closed-door meeting with Iraq experts this week, reported earlier that the US president had expressed frustration with the pace of progress in Iraq and with Maliki.
“We don’t expect him to be an overnight success in dealing with all these problems — nobody can be. But the president certainly supports Prime Minister Maliki,” countered White House spokesman Tony Snow.
“You’ve got a government that is brand new,” Snow told reporters. “This is a guy who has a series of challenges before him with his government, and the president is impressed not only by his determination to get the job done, but the fact is that he is working aggressively to do these things.”
Bush believes that “when you’re facing a situation, you don’t sit around and get frustrated. You figure out how to get the job done,” said Snow. “The president is somebody who’s intensely practical about these things.”
Opposition Democratic lawmakers have accused Bush’s government of diverting resources from the hunt for Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network, which carried out the September 11, 2001 attacks, to the 2003 invasion to topple Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
But Bush insisted that the war in Iraq was part of the broader battle against terrorist threats.
“It’s important to understand this is a global war on terror, not an isolated moment of law enforcement. This is the first war of the 21st century and the United States of America must lead that war, and we must be firm, and we must be resolved.”