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Bush, Blair: Coalition loosening Iraqi regime's 'grip of terror'

WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- "Slowly, but surely, the grip of terror around the throats of the Iraqi people is being loosened," President Bush said today.

Accompanied by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush spoke at a press conference at Camp David, Md. He said coalition forces are "advancing day by day in steady progress against the enemy."

"We are now engaging the dictator's most hardened and most desperate units," Bush said. "The campaign ahead will demand further courage and require further sacrifice, yet we know the outcome. Iraq will be disarmed, the Iraqi regime will be ended and the long-suffering Iraqi people will be free."

There is no timetable for the war, the president stressed to reporters. The war will last "however long it takes to win" and the Iraqi people have got to know that "they will be liberated and Saddam Hussein will be removed -- no matter how long it takes."

Blair echoed the U.S. president's commitment, noting that while some people are fiercely loyal to the regime, he has no doubt that the "vast majority of ordinary Iraqi people are desperate for a better and different future."

The prime minister restated the coalition's "total resolve."

"Saddam Hussein and his hateful regime will be removed from power," Blair said. "Iraq will be disarmed of weapons of mass destruction and the Iraqi people will be free. That is our commitment. That is our determination, and we will see it done."

Blair noted that in just under a week, coalition forces have achieved "a massive amount." They've secured Iraq's southern oil fields and facilities, protecting that resource and wealth for the Iraqi people and avoiding ecological disaster, he said. They've disabled Iraq's ability to launch external aggression from the west.

Coalition forces are within 50 miles of Baghdad, he continued. They've secured the key port of Umm Qasr, paving the way for humanitarian aid. They've also damaged Iraq's command and control capabilities.

Right now, Blair said, coalition forces are primarily focused on military victory, "which they are prosecuting with the utmost vigor." Coalition forces are moving into the north. The west is protected from external aggression. "We will carry on until the job is done."

Blair said he's confident the operation's goals would be met, and he paid tribute to the integrity of the coalition forces. He said their professionalism, skill and bravery "stands in sharp contrast to the brutality of Saddam's regime."

"Day by day, we have seen the reality of Saddam's regime," Blair said. "His thugs prepare to kill their own people, the parading of prisoners of war, and now the release of those pictures of executed British soldiers.

"If anyone needed any further evidence of the depravity of Saddam's regime, this atrocity provides it," he said. "It is yet one more flagrant breach of all the proper conventions of war.

"More than that," Blair continued, "to the families of the soldiers involved, it is an act of cruelty beyond comprehension. It is, indeed, beyond the comprehension of anyone with an ounce of humanity in their souls."

Bush said he is not surprised by reports of the regime's brutality. He's not surprised Iraqi forces are committing crimes against coalition soldiers and killing their own citizens and trying to blame it on coalition forces. He's not surprised that deserters are being blown away by fellow Iraqi citizens.

"We had reports the other day of a dissident who had his tongue cut out and was tied to a stake in the town's square," the president said. "He bled to death. That's how Saddam Hussein retains power."

If Saddam Hussein uses weapons of mass destruction, Bush said, "it will just prove our case and we will deal with it." Anyone who launches a weapon of mass destruction will be tried as a war criminal, he added.

"We've got one objective in mind -- that's victory," he said, "and we will achieve victory."

Bush said the United States and coalition partner nations will stand with the Iraqi people on the challenges ahead. The coalition is prepared to deliver humanitarian relief on a large scale, and relief operations have begun.

Bush and Blair urged the United Nations to resume the oil-for-food program. Bush said more than half the Iraqi people depend on this program as their sole source of food.

"This urgent humanitarian issue must not be politicized," the president stressed, urging the Security Council to give Secretary-General Kofi Annan the authority to send food supplies to the Iraqis most in need.

The coalition is also committed to helping the Iraqi people over the long term, he said.

"Iraq's greatest long-term need is a representative government that protects the rights of all Iraqis," Bush said. "The form of this government will be chosen by the Iraqi people, not be imposed by outsiders."

American, British, Polish and other coalition troops are sharing the duties and sacrifices of the war to disarm Iraq, the president said, noting that the coalition assembled today is greater than that assembled in 1991.

"Ally after ally after ally has stood with us and continues to stand with us," Bush told reporters. "We appreciate the bravery, the professionalism of the British troops and all coalition troops. Together we have lost people and the American people offer their prayers to the loved ones of the British fallen just as we offer our prayers to the loved ones of our own troops who have fallen."

Blair offered his nation's condolences, sympathy and prayers to the families of the American service members who have fallen in this conflict. (Courtesy American Forces Press Service)

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