Menu

Bush Marks First Anniversary of Iraq War

On the one-year anniversary of launching a war to oust Saddam Hussein from Iraq, President Bush said "there's no neutral ground" when it comes to dealing with terrorists.

"The war on terror is not a figure of speech, it is an inescapable calling of our generation," Bush said in a speech given the East Room of the White House (search). "We know that this way of life is worth defending, there's no neutral ground."

"There can be no separate peace with a terrorist enemy. Any sign of weakness or retreat simply validates terrorist violence and invites more violence on all nations," Bush continued. "The only certain way to protect our people is by united and decisive action."

Bush's remarks ended a weeklong administration effort to boost support for the war on terrorism at a time when cracks are forming in the U.S.-led alliance that toppled Saddam Hussein (search) from power.

"We can never bow to the violence of the few," Bush said, saying American shares in the sorrow of the Spanish people who just suffered 202 deaths and many more injuries after terrorists planted bombs on commuter trains March 11.

"No nation or region is exempt from the terrorist campaign of violence," the president said, adding that each attack is not only a "shock and tragedy" but a "test of our will."

The Madrid "murders," he said, "are a reminder that the civilized world is at war."

"Each attack is designed to demoralize our people and divide us from one another," Bush said, and those attacks must be answered with not only sorrow and mourning but determination and "bolder action against the killers."

Bush comments came as the Spain's prime minister-elect, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (search), has said he will withdraw 1,300 Spanish troops from Iraq unless the United Nations takes control of peacekeeping. The previous leader, Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, was one of Bush's staunchest allies in the war on terror.

"It is in the interest of every country and the duty of every government to fight and destroy this threat to our people," Bush said. "There is a dividing line in our world, not between nations or religions or cultures, but a dividing line separating two visions of justice and the value of life."

Iraq's 'Day of Deliverance'

Turning to the issue of Iraq, the president said Iraq has had its "day of deliverance" and that the toppling of Saddam Hussein — who's now in a jail cell in the United States - was a "turning point for the Middle East."

U.S. actions in Iraq proved controversial at the United Nations a year ago, when the Security Council was split on whether to use military force to oust the former dictator. Huge rifts were created in the relationships between the United States, France and Germany, in particular.

But that's all in the past, now, Bush said.

"There have been disagreements in this matter among old and valued friends. Those differences belong to the past," he said. "All of us can now agree that the fall of the Iraqi dictator has removed a source of violence, aggression and instability in the Middle East. It's a good thing that the demands of the U.N. were enforced, not ignored with impunity."

But he noted that the work in Iraq is far from over.

"There are still violent thugs and murderers in Iraq and we're dealing with them," he said. "But no one can disagree that the Iraqi people would be better of with the thugs and murderers in the Iraqi palaces."

In a gesture of unity despite Spain's threatened defection from Bush's "coalition of the willing," dozens of ambassadors from countries closely aligned with the United States attended Bush's speech.

Bush also received a reaffirmation of support from a crucial ally Friday — Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewksi (search).

The Polish president said that he felt "uncomfortable due to the fact that we [along with the United States and Britain] were misled with the information on weapons of mass destruction" and suggested he may pull his country's 2,400 troops out of Iraq earlier than planned.

But he later released a statement saying it was Saddam who "misled the world in believing that he had the weapons."

Friday, in a prearranged phone call between the two presidents, Kwasniewski assured Bush that Polish troops will stay in Iraq "as long as needed."

"In this contest of will and purpose, not every nation joins every mission, or participates in the same way," Bush said in his speech. "Yet, every nation makes a vital contribution, and America is proud to stand with all of you as we pursue a broad strategy in the war against terror."

'They Will Face Their Day of Justice'

Every tool of finance, intelligence, law enforcement and military power are being used to "break terror networks, to deny them refuge, and to find their leaders," wherever they may be, the commander-in-chief said, noting that over the past 30 months, $200 million in assets of terror networks has been either frozen or seized.

Two-thirds of Al Qaeda's known leaders have been either captured or killed, as well as many of the network's associates in countries like the United States, Germany, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Thailand.

"We are taking the fight to Al Qaeda allies, such as Ansar-al-Islam in Iraq, Jemaah Islamiya in Indonesia, and Southeast Asia," Bush said. "Our coalition is sending an unmistakable message to the terrorists, including those who struck in Madrid: These killers will be tracked down and found, they will face their day of justice."

Some experts said that while Bush's speech was strong and sent a clear message, he at some point needs to go into more detail on why the United States went to war in Iraq to garner more international support for efforts there and the broader war on terror.

"You have to make more in the way of serious argument why the war in Iraq was necessary and why victory is necessary," said Fox News political analyst Bill Kristol.

Fox News foreign affairs analyst Marc Ginsberg said the United States needs to "get a handle on the war of ideas to win back the hearts and minds of our European allies" or else Spain could be symptomatic of a broader problem the United States will face and that "we won't have the support we need to accomplish the objectives that are so large a scale."

As of Thursday, 568 U.S. service members had died in Iraq since military operations began on March, 19, 2003, with most of those killed during combat. More than three-fourths of the dead, or 430, were killed after May 1, when Bush declared the end of major combat operations in Iraq.

After the speech, Bush and first lady Laura Bush were to visit with soldiers and their families are Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Fox News' James Rosen and The Associated Press contributed to this report.