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Bush: 'Iraq withdrawal may spark 9/11 repeat'

London Telegraph | March 20, 2007
Toby Harnden

President George W Bush used the fourth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war yesterday to warn that US withdrawal would unleash a "contagion of violence" that could spark a repeat of the September 11 attacks.

Although he conceded that there would be "bad days ahead", he insisted that there had been "good progress" in Iraq and there were "hopeful signs" that the influx of 30,000 additional troops would stabilise Baghdad.

The bullish self-confidence of 2003 was absent as he said only that the war could be won rather than portraying victory as inevitable. "Four years after this war began, the fight is difficult, but it can be won."

He delivered a tough message to Democrats, who now control Congress, that he would veto any bill that did not provide "the funds and the flexibility that our troops need to accomplish their mission".Democratic proposals for deadlines for troop withdrawals, he claimed, could be "devastating" for US security and could help al-Qa'eda plan attacks against the US on a scale not seen since September 11.

"It can be tempting to look at the challenges in Iraq and conclude our best option is to pack up and go home. That may be satisfying in the short run, but I believe the consequences for American security would be devastating.

"If American forces were to step back from Baghdad before it is more secure, a contagion of violence could spill out across the entire country. In time, this violence could engulf the region.

"The terrorists could emerge from the chaos with a safe haven in Iraq to replace the one they had in Afghanistan, which they used to plan the attacks of September 11, 2001. For the safety of the American people, we cannot allow this to happen."

By stating that the war would be won "if we have the courage and resolve to see it through", he appeared to be preparing the ground for blaming an eventual failure in Iraq on a new Democratic president should he or she order a withdrawal.

But Democrats have been increasingly contemptuous of Mr Bush's protestations that the removal of Saddam Hussein has made the US safer. In a statement to mark the fourth anniversary, Nancy Pelosi, the new Speaker of the House, condemned "an ill-conceived war of choice" in Iraq. "It has brought our military's readiness to the lowest levels since the Vietnam war, cost billions of dollars and significantly damaged the standing of the United States in the eyes of the world."

A poll yesterday showed US support for the Iraq war had dropped to 32 per cent, from 72 per cent when it began.

Violence continued yesterday when an explosion at a Shia mosque in Baghdad, killed at least eight. A series of car bombs then struck the city of Kirkuk, killing 12 people.

•Saddam Hussein's former vice-president, Taha Yassin Ramadan, was due to be hanged in the early hours of today, Iraqi legal sources said.

Ramadan was sentenced in November to life in jail for his role in the killing of 148 Shias in Dujail in the 1980s for which Saddam and two aides have been hanged. But an appeals court recommended he receive the death penalty and referred the case back to the trial court.

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