WASHINGTON – President Bush and his closest ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, on Thursday reiterated their commitment to disarming Saddam Hussein, saying the war will last "however long it takes."
"The United States and the United Kingdom are working together for a noble purpose," Bush said at a press briefing from Camp David, where he was accompanied by Blair. "Together, coalition forces are advancing day by day in steady progress against the enemy. Slowly but surely, the grip of terror around the throats of the Iraqi people is being loosened."
Blair also joined in saying the conflict will go on until the objective of ridding Saddam is achieved.
"Saddam Hussein and his hateful regime will be removed from power. Iraq will be disarmed of weapons of mass destruction and the Iraqi people will be free. That is a commitment, that is our determination and we will see it done," Blair said.
Asked by a reporter how long he expects the war to last -- a question asked of the administration and U.S. military chiefs daily, Bush replied: "However long it takes to win, however long it takes to meet our objective … That's the answer to your question and that's what you got to know."
"It's not set by time, it's set by the nature of the job," Blair added.
Bush said coalition troops are now engaging Saddam's "most hardened and most desperate unit."
U.S. and British troops in the field have been making steady progress toward Baghdad from the north, west and south, even as they find Iraqi military resistance stronger than they may have expected.
Paramilitary troopers unwilling to give up the fight have taken to abducting children out of homes in order to force fathers to take up arms.
But Fox News military analyst Capt. Chuck Nash, U.S. Navy-Ret., suggested the Iraqi effort is all for naught because with clearer weather, coalition forces are ready to send an "aluminum cloud" of air power "to darken the sun over Baghdad" and lend ground forces the air support they need to obliterate Iraqi troops.
Fighting the war has been accompanied with efforts to get humanitarian relief to Iraqi people. Tons of food has been delivered despite mine barriers at the port of Umm Qasr, where supplies are being shipped.
Bush asked the United Nations to immediately resume Iraq's oil-for-food program and asked the Security Council to give U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan the authority to do so.
"This urgent humanitarian issue must not be politicized," Bush said.
About 60 percent of Iraq's 22 million people are fed through the U.N.'s oil-for-food program that began in 1996. Under the program, Iraq is allowed to sell unlimited quantities of oil as long as the money goes mainly to buy food, medicine and other humanitarian goods for Iraq's people.
But the U.N. Security Council has been bitterly divided over the decision by the United States, Britain and Spain to attack Iraq, and that division has spilled over into negotiations to revise the program.
"Our primary focus now is and must be the military victory, which we will prosecute with the utmost vigor. And the immediate priority for the United Nations is, as the president was indicating a moment or two ago, the oil-for-food program," Blair said.
He also stressed that coalition forces aren't interested in forcing one type of government on the Iraqi people.
"The form of this government will be chosen by the Iraqi people, not imposed by outsiders," he said, adding that he has no doubt that "a free Iraq will be a successful nation."
Bush and Blair on Wednesday focused discussion largely on Blair's opposition to an American military counsel heading up any provisional government in Iraq after Saddam's regime is ousted.
Also sitting in on the meeting was National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Chief of Staff Andrew Card, as well as their British counterparts.
Blair wants the United Nations to take the lead role in forming the new government, and he said the discussion also centered on "how we get America and Europe working again together as partners and not as rivals."
Prior to the briefing, the two leaders also discussed how to expand the peace into the Middle East and beyond.
"We had an excellent discussion of the Middle East, and we both share a complete determination to move this forward. It is indeed often overlooked that President Bush is the first U.S. president publicly to commit himself to a two-state solution, an Israel confident of its security and a viable Palestinian state," Blair said, referring to Bush's recent announcement that as soon as an independent Palestinian prime minister demonstrates his authority, statehood talks can begin.
Bush said the roadmap for a peaceful Israeli-Palestinian region -- developed by the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia -- will be released "soon."
Blair took another opportunity to lash out against Saddam's regime for providing video of two dead bodies, of British soldiers reported missing in action, to the Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera. It also showed two prisoners being held by the Iraqis.
"Day by day, we have seen the reality of Saddam's regime: his thugs prepared 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. It is yet one more flagrant breach of all the proper conventions of war," he said.
And he reminded the group that Saddam has been brutalizing his own people for over two decades and that the international community simply cannot ignore it any longer.
"If the world walks away from the security threat facing us and we back down ... think of the sign that would have sent across the world to every brutal dictator," he said. "I have no doubt we're doing the right thing."
Bush and Blair kicked off their meetings on Iraq's future Thursday with a classified video-conference linking up Camp David with Washington, London and U.S. Central Command's forward headquarters in Doha, Qatar.
The two-day meeting in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains followed Wednesday's arrival of Bush from Florida and Blair from his home base in London. Bush met with troops at Central Command's Tampa headquarters. MacDill Air Force Base is also the planning location for operations in Iraq.
"We cannot know the duration of this war, but we are prepared for the battle ahead," Bush told a cheering crowd of troops. "We cannot predict the final day of the Iraqi regime but I can assure you and I assure the people of Iraq there will be a day of reckoning for the Iraqi regime and that day is drawing near."
"Our military is making good progress in Iraq, yet this war is far from over," he said.
In London on Wednesday, Blair faced pointed questions in the House of Commons, underlining persistent skepticism in Britain about U.S. intentions in Iraq, the Middle East and in global diplomacy generally.
David Taylor, a member of Blair's Labor party, posed the sharpest query, asking if the prime minister would use his meeting with Bush to question the administration's "scorn for multinational diplomacy and their cavalier disregard for the United Nations."
"I don't think I'll be saying quite that, no," Blair replied.
"But I also think it is important that we make sure that we broaden the agenda that we present to the world, which is why I believe that issues like the Middle East peace process are also particularly at this moment important," he said.
Labor lawmaker Chris Bryant urged Blair to seek a U.S. commitment to a U.N. resolution on reconstruction in Iraq.
The meeting at Camp David resembles one 60 years ago when President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill met to discuss the depths of World War II. The retreat was known then as Shangri-La.
Nearly 300,000 allied troops lost their lives in that war.
Fox News' James Rosen and Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.