In remarks immediately translated for broadcast over Iraqi radio waves, President Bush today assured the people of Iraq that coalition forces can be counted on to finish off the government of Saddam Hussein and to deliver "food and medicine and a better life."
The fact that Iraqis have not immediately risen up to welcome U.S. and allied troops is entirely understandable, Bush said in a speech to members of the Coast Guard gathered at the Port of Philadelphia. More than two decades of life in a "nightmare world" under the Iraqi president has filled them with "fear and distrust."
But he added: "I give this pledge to the citizens of Iraq: We are coming with a mighty force to end the reign of your oppressors. . . . We are coming, and we will not stop, we will not relent until your country is free."
Bush's remarks -- equal parts optimism about coalition prospects and condemnation of the Iraqi government -- were part of a coordinated day of administration messages intended to counter widespread suggestions that the war in Iraq is going worse than expected. Defense Department spokeswoman Victoria Clarke raised the possibility that Hussein and his sons are dead or badly injured and cited unspecified "reports" that Hussein's family is trying to "flee the country."
Aides said Bush has expressed concern that Iraqi citizens could become discouraged by what he considers second-guessing and impatience in news reports of the war. The president will continue to address specific remarks to the Iraqi people in coming days, an administration official said, to show his personal resolve and commitment to replacing Hussein's regime -- no matter how costly or slow the job turns out to be.
Still, there was sniping between the Pentagon and State Department over how to administer a post-Saddam Iraq. And along the road to Baghdad, coalition forces continued to face violent resistance from Hussein loyalists, and jittery troops opened fire on a van full of women and children after the driver ignored orders to stop at a checkpoint.
Progress in the war is good, Bush told a cheering audience on a dock lined with cargo containers that the White House had draped in American flags. "In 11 days, coalition forces have taken control of most of western and southern Iraq. In 11 days, we've seized key bridges, opened a northern front, achieved -- nearly achieved -- complete air superiority and are delivering tons of humanitarian aid."
Bush called the war's 11 days a "short time," and said troops have performed brilliantly. "Many dangers lie ahead," he added. Then, enunciating every word as if to be sure skeptics did not miss anything, Bush declared, "But day by day, we are moving closer to Baghdad. Day by day, we are moving closer to victory."
Elsewhere in the administration, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell announced that he would leave Tuesday on a quick trip to Turkey, which borders Iraq on the north. The war has jangled the longstanding U.S. relationship with Turkey, and Powell's trip is designed to tend a key strategic ally. He will also visit Brussels to reassure European leaders upset by the war.
Bush wore a blue Coast Guard jacket on a blustery afternoon. A Coast Guard buoy tender loomed behind him as he spoke. Earlier, as he entered the Coast Guard station, his motorcade passed an antiwar demonstration, and the noise of drums was loud enough to be heard inside the vehicles. Many protesters waved cardboard oil rigs with red streamers like spewing blood, and signs with such slogans as "No Filthy Oil War," and "Create a U.S. Peace Department."
Much of his speech was devoted to the continuing terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland, and his warning of possible attacks was his most explicit since his March 17 ultimatum to Hussein on the eve of the invasion.
"The dying regime in Iraq may try to bring terror to our shores," Bush said today. "Other parts of the global terror network may view this as a moment to strike, thinking that we're distracted. They're wrong."
The war in Iraq, he said, was a key step in securing the country from terror. "After our nation was attacked on September the 11th, 2001, America made a decision. We will not wait for our enemies to strike before we act against them. We're not going to permit terrorists and terrorist states to plot and plan, and grow in strength while we do nothing."
The idea that Hussein and his troops are not just friends of terrorists -- as Bush has charged for more than a year -- but are themselves waging terror was repeated by Bush and others in the administration today. "The dictator's regime has ruled by fear and continues to use fear as a tool of domination to the end," the president said. He spoke of Iraqi "death squads" and "thugs" who force citizens to fight allied troops and shoot those who try to flee.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer echoed those words, speaking of Iraqi "death squads with their Gestapo-like tactics." But he, too, sounded an upbeat note when he added that "friendly Iraqis" are providing information to help the allies as they root out Hussein's loyalists. "As the security situation improves on the ground for the Iraqi people, and as their fears of Saddam Hussein, his Baath Party loyalists and his death squads diminish, people will naturally assume more freedom," Fleischer said.
Fleischer also fielded questions about the preparation of the war plan for Iraq; critics of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld have charged him with shaping the plan to fit his bureaucratic biases. "It was a war plan that was arrived at as a result of months of meetings that involve the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the [regional military commanders] and the National Security Council," Fleischer said. "It was devised primarily by General [Tommy] Franks" -- the commander of the allied campaign -- "with his team. And then it was run through a variety of different traps, that included the National Security Council, top DOD civilian leadership, the entire NSC process and signed off on by the president of the United States."
Rumsfeld's name was nowhere in the litany, except among the anonymous "civilian leadership" of the Department of Defense.
The trip today was Bush's second since the war began, and each was to a state critical for his reelection. Last week, Bush visited the military's Central Command headquarters in Florida. After receiving his morning intelligence reports, Bush held a National Security Council meeting and then met privately with Rumsfeld -- both of which have become daily presidential appointments.
Von Drehle reported from Washington.