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Bush warns against early Iraq exit

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- President Bush marked the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq yesterday with a stark warning against the temptation "to pack up and go home."

He made his brief speech in the midst of an increasingly tense showdown with the Democratic-controlled Congress over the constitutional balance of power in wartime.

The House is scheduled to vote Thursday on a Democratic proposal to attach conditions to the president's $100 million war-funding package. The proposal would require that U.S. combat troops be withdrawn from Iraq next year, which Bush has said would undercut the troops and aid the insurgents.

Bush's commemoration of the anniversary, delivered beneath a portrait of Theodore Roosevelt as a Rough Rider, was notable for the sharp change in tone from his speeches in the early days of the war when it still appeared possible that a quick victory in Baghdad could be followed by a relatively swift withdrawal.

In those first few months, Bush argued that he was on the way to spreading democracy throughout the Middle East through the contagious euphoria that had been expected to follow the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Yesterday, Bush made no reference to democracy. In his only reference to the regional effects of the war, he said, "If American forces were to step back from Baghdad before it is more secure, a contagion of violence could engulf the entire country. In time, this violence could engulf the region."

Violence continued in Iraq yesterday as a bomb exploded during midday prayers at a Shiite mosque near the Shorja market, one of Baghdad's busiest, killing four and wounding 25. In a measure of how inured residents here have become to violence, within two hours the market area was again so crowded that it was difficult to walk around.

In Kirkuk, an oil center near the semiautonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan in the north, two car bombs exploded and a mortar round hit a residential area. The three incidents occurred in less than an hour in the early afternoon.

Thirty bodies were found in Baghdad, more than in recent days, raising the possibility of a renewed surge in sectarian killings.

The invasion began in the early morning of March 20, 2003, in Baghdad, which was March 19 in Washington.

Anniversaries of the invasion have become more politically fraught in the years since the invasion. Bush used his remarks yesterday to argue that it is the responsibility of Congress to support the troops in Iraq and that he alone has the authority to decide on the strategy and the timetable for adding or withdrawing troops.

"They have a responsibility to get this bill to my desk without strings and without delay," Bush said of the war-funding package.

Reflecting Bush's low approval ratings and the widespread discontent with continuing American casualties, Democrats used the occasion of the anniversary yesterday to go on the attack.

"After four years of failure in Iraq, the president's only answer is to do more of the same," Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, said in a statement. Referring to Republican efforts to defeat a resolution in the Senate calling for a 2008 troop withdrawal, Reid said, "With the blessing of Senate Republicans, he's committing more U.S. troops to an open-ended civil war."

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