DEC 15 2005



One day before Iraq's historic parliamentary elections, US President George W. Bush defended his decision to invade that country and reserved the right to pre-emptive war in the future.


"In an age of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, if we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long," he said in a speech aimed at shoring up flagging US support for the conflict.


The president took responsibility for launching the March 2003 invasion based on intelligence that "turned out to be wrong" about Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction, none of which were found.


"As president, I'm responsible for the decision to go into Iraq and I'm also responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities. And we're doing just that," he said.


The US president, who embraced pre-emptive war as US strategy after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, did not name any potential targets, but said the Iraq vote would put pressure on the governments of Iran and Syria.


"We are living through a watershed moment in the story of freedom," he said. Iraq "will be a model for the Middle East. Freedom in Iraq will inspire reformers from Damascus to Tehran."


Bush's job approval ratings have sunk sharply since his November 2004 re-election because of high gas prices, worries about the economy and growing concerns about Iraq as the US death toll has risen beyond 2,140 soldiers.


The president said Sunni Arabs, who have fueled the bloody insurgency, were increasingly abandoning violence to take part in their country's politics and would turn out in large numbers Thursday after boycotting January elections.


Non-Iraqi extremists and Saddam loyalists "lack popular support, and over time, they can be marginalized and defeated by the security forces of a free Iraq," said Bush.


He also warned that violence would continue even after the vote, and laid out how to measure progress towards the day when the United States can bring home its roughly 160,000 troops.


Bush said victory will have been achieved when extremists and Saddam loyalists are no longer a threat to Iraq's democracy, when Iraqi security forces are self-sufficient and when Iraq is not a "safe haven" for terrorists.


"These objectives, not timetables set by politicians in Washington, will drive our force levels in Iraq," said the president. "We cannot and will not leave Iraq until victory is achieved."


Bush acknowledged that the war had sharply divided the United States and that intelligence about Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons programs had turned out to be false, but he sharply rebuked "irresponsible" charges that he had deliberately misled the country.


"These charges are pure politics. They hurt the morale of our troops," he declared, saying that even countries which opposed the war agreed that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction.


But US media have quoted French and German intelligence officials in recent weeks as saying that they repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, warned Washington that crucial parts of its case for war were flawed or outright false.


German intelligence officials warned their US counterparts that accounts from an Iraqi defector code named Curveball, a critical US source for charges that Iraq possessed mobile germ weapons labs, could not be confirmed and, in many cases, were deeply suspect, The Los Angeles Times reported in November.


The same daily quoted a former senior French intelligence official on Sunday as saying that Paris tried for months to warn the CIA that there was no evidence to support a US allegation that Iraq had tried to purchase nuclear weapons material in Africa.







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