26 MARCH 2003

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Bush won't predict duration of Iraq war

US President Bush, seeking $74.7 billion as a down payment for war in Iraq, said yesterday that coalition forces are "on a steady advance" but that he could not predict how long the fighting will last.
"We cannot know the duration of this war, yet we know its outcome: We will prevail," Bush, commander in chief of 300,000 troops in the Persian Gulf, told US military personnel at the Pentagon.
"The Iraq regime will be disarmed. The Iraq regime will be ended. The Iraq people will be free and our world will be more secure and peaceful," he said.
The remarks and a two-day meeting this week with British Prime Minister Tony Blair are part of a campaign by United States and British officials to brace their citizens for a war that could be longer and tougher than many expected. While making progress toward Baghdad, coalition forces have suffered casualties - at least 20 US troops have been killed and 14 captured or missing in war on Iraq.
"The people of our military and their families are showing great courage, and some have suffered great loss. America is grateful to all those who have sacrificed in our cause," Bush said.
In London, Blair said there are bound to be "difficult days ahead" for coalition forces.
The bulk of Bush's spending request, $62.6 billion, will support US troops both in Iraq and other operations related to the broader war on terrorism in the next six months, the White House said. The rest of the money will go to humanitarian assistance in Iraq, other foreign aid and homeland defence programs in the United States.
The package will help pay for transportation of forces to the Persian Gulf region, supplying troops and maintaining equipment. It also will allow the Pentagon to replace cruise missiles, smart bombs and other high-tech munitions, and provide combat pay to troops.
Standing in front of a display of military service flags, Bush asked Congress for flexibility in spending the money and said he wanted the bill on his desk as soon as possible. Aides said his target date was 11 April.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., told reporters on Capitol Hill that Congress would try to meet that timetable.
On the eve of a visit at his Camp David, mountaintop retreat with Blair, the president addressed a room full of top Pentagon staff. Standing with the president were Secretary of Defence Donald H. Rumsfeld, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Marine Gen. Peter Pace, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Gen. Eric Shinseki, US Army Chief of Staff; and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clark.
"The situation in any war is fluid," Bush said.
"We're fighting an enemy that knows no rules of law, that will wear civilian uniforms, that are willing to kill in order to continue the reign of fear of Saddam Hussein. But we're fighting them with bravery and courage," the president said.
Frist conceded that the price tag of the supplemental appropriations bill might grow, with lawmakers interested in adding funds for local emergency workers and perhaps to aid financially troubled airlines.
"The president made it very clear this was the best estimate of what they believe the cost of the war is," Frist said.
Meanwhile, a senior administration official said national security adviser Condoleezza Rice was visiting the United Nations yesterday to discuss humanitarian issues with Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Lawmakers grumbled after a Monday meeting with Bush that they were frozen out of their oversight role on spending, and predicted Bush would soon return asking for more war money.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
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