Bush Thanks Australia for Help

President Bush thanked the government of Australian Prime Minister John Howard (search) Wednesday for its help in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"America, Australia and other nations acted in Iraq to remove a grave and gathering danger, instead of wishing and waiting while a tragedy drew closer," Bush said near the end of a six-nation, eight-day lobbying campaign to give the war on terrorism among Asian and Pacific allies a shot in the arm.

The president also offered a pointed answer to those who say Operation Iraqi Freedom (search) wasn't worth fighting.

"Who can possibly think that the world would be better off with Saddam Hussein still in power?" Bush asked.

Bush told a divided Parliament that the war in Iraq was right and inevitable, but that Americans and Australians "still have decisive days ahead" and that the broader war on terror could be long and drawn out.

Before heading for Hawaii Thursday, Bush observed a ceremony in which soldiers placed a wreath on Australia's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to honor Sgt. Andrew Russell, an Australian solider who was the first casualty among U.S. allies in Afghanistan.

Bush also met privately with Australian soldiers who fought in Iraq and in Afghanistan, before Howard escorted Bush to the bottom step of Air Force One for the 10-hour flight to Hawaii.

'A Divided View'

Bush praised Howard as "a leader of exceptional courage" for sending 2,000 troops to Iraq despite the largest peace protests in his nation since the Vietnam War.

For his part, Howard said as he introduced Bush to Parliament: "We have a divided view in this nation" on Iraq.

That was reinforced when 41 opposition-party lawmakers signed a letter criticizing Bush's war decision, saying no clear and present danger existed.

Thousands of demonstrators banged drums and shouted outside the Parliament building while a separate group of protesters jostled with security officials outside the U.S. embassy compound where Bush stayed overnight.

During Bush's speech, two Green Party senators jumped to their feet and shouted war protests at Bush. They were ordered removed from the chamber but sat and refused to leave. One of them, Sen. Bob Brown, shouted "we are not a sheriff," a reference to Bush's recent description of Howard.

"I love free speech," Bush said to laughter.

Several other lawmakers wore white arm bands to protest the Iraq war but remained silent.

Later, Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said that the president had been warned beforehand by Howard of possible heckling.

"It was expected," said McClellan. "That's the Australian Parliament for you."

For the most part, Bush was warmly received. Opposition Labor Party leader Simon Crean, in opening remarks, said that differences over Iraq "strengthen rather than weaken the relationship."

"Friends must be honest with one another," he added.

While Bush drew mixed applause with his remarks about Iraq, his comments on the broader war on terrorism brought approving shouts of "here, here" from both sides of the chamber.

"As free nations in peril, we must fight this enemy with all our strength," Bush said.

Both in the speech, and at an earlier news conference with Howard, Bush portrayed the battle ahead as long and difficult.

"We cannot let up in our offensive against terror, even a bit," Bush told Parliament. "And we must continue to build stability and peace in the Middle East and Asia as the alternatives to hatred and fear."

During the news conference, Bush also said that his administration hoped to complete negotiations on a free-trade agreement with Australia by year's end.

And he defended the continuing holding in Guantanamo, Cuba, of two Australians captured during fighting in Afghanistan. Their imprisonment has been a big issue in Australia.

He said he discussed the status of the two Australians with Howard and "there is an ongoing process." Still, he said, "These are people who were picked up off a battlefield of war."

Bush called suggestions by critics that the prisoners had been mistreated "utterly ridiculous."

Bush came here from Indonesia where he tried to convince skeptical Islamic leaders that America is not biased against Muslim countries. He also attended a regional economic summit in Bangkok, Thailand, and paid separate visits to Japan and the Philippines.

Bush failed in his efforts to persuade leaders of both Japan and China to stop artificially valuing their currencies against the dollar. That makes their products cheaper to American consumers, but makes it harder for U.S. manufacturers to compete, contributing to the steady erosion of U.S. jobs.

"He views this as an issue that will not be solved overnight," White House communications director Dan Bartlett said. "It's something he will continue to push."

In Hawaii, Bush was to tour Pearl Harbor and participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the USS Arizona Memorial. The president will pay tribute to those who fell and draw parallels between the victims of Sept. 11 and the Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor attack.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.