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Bush says war may be tough, meets advisers

US President Bush examined the latest reports of fighting along the Iraqi frontlines and warned Americans the war could be "longer and more difficult" than some thought.

india Updated: Mar 22, 2003 23:32 IST

US President George W. Bush examined the latest reports of fighting along the Iraqi frontlines on Saturday and warned Americans the war could be "longer and more difficult" than some thought.

As US-led forces rolled toward Baghdad, Bush convened his war council at the Camp David presidential retreat in rural Maryland and vowed to use "decisive force" to bring down the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"This will not be a campaign of half measures," Bush warned the Iraqi leadership in his weekly radio address after US and British aircraft unleashed the devastating firepower of missiles and bombs on Baghdad and other Iraqi sites.

Polls show growing public support within the United States for Bush's policy in Iraq.

Three days into battle, Bush cautioned against overconfidence given the apparent success of the mission and lack of serious resistance so far.

"A campaign on harsh terrain in a vast country could be longer and more difficult than some have predicted," said Bush, who spent the first weekend of the war at Camp David.

One survey published on Saturday by the New York Times and CBS News found 70 per cent of Americans approved of his handling of the Iraq crisis, a surge of 19 points in just 10 days.

But the polls showed a hard-core minority who still opposed the war and Bush's leadership. And while the president's popularity usually goes up in times of crisis, the Times/CBS poll said Bush's had not gone up as much as his father's did when he was president during the Gulf War in 1991.

Anti-war rallies planned

Opponents planned anti-war rallies in US cities including New York and Washington. Large protests in the Middle East and Asia underscored overwhelming public opposition to the war in many other countries around the world.

Bush met on Saturday morning with officials including national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Bush left Washington on Friday as US and British jets launched an air assault on Baghdad and ground forces thrust deep into Iraqi territory toward the capital where Saddam's supporters were dug in.

"I want Americans and all the world to know that coalition forces will make every effort to spare innocent civilians from harm," Bush said.

Over the weekend, the White House was putting final touches on a spending plan to pay for the war in Iraq expected to top $75 billion. Bush plans to meet on Monday with lawmakers on his war budget, which could grow well beyond the $75 billion figure if the war drags on.

Question mark about Saddam's fate

Although Iraq insisted Saddam was alive, US intelligence has found no signs he has communicated with his troops, adding to the uncertainty about the fate of the Iraqi president, officials said.

Bush, commander in chief of about 250,000 US troops in the Gulf, said the forces were conducting themselves "in the highest traditions of the American military."

Their mission, he said, was clear: "To disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein's support for terrorism and to free the Iraqi people."

Bush, who gave Saddam a 48-hour ultimatum to leave Iraq or face an invasion after determining diplomacy had run its course, said the United States went to war "reluctantly."

"Now that conflict has come, the only way to limit its duration is to apply decisive force," he said.

First Published: Mar 22, 2003 23:32 IST