Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Report #52 on the Era of Peace

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December 14, 2005

30,000 Iraqis killed since war began, says Bush

New Zealand Herald

PHILADELPHIA - US President George W. Bush said 30,000 Iraqis have been killed since the Iraq war began and, speaking days before election in Iraq, acknowledged setbacks in efforts to create a democracy there.

"No nation in history has made the transition to a free society without facing challenges, setbacks and false starts," Mr Bush said in a speech and question-and-answer session at the World Affairs Council, striking a more realistic tone than he has sometimes in the past.

Mr Bush predicted insurgent violence will not end with Thursday's parliamentary election and said much work remains to make Iraq's fledging democracy inclusive to all.

The speech, his third in a series leading up to the election, was Mr Bush's latest attempt to try to bolster support for his Iraq strategy among Americans sceptical of his leadership and weary of the war.

"This week elections won't be perfect, and a successful vote is not the end of the process. Iraqis still have more difficult work ahead," he said. "These enemies aren't going to give up because of a successful election."

In answer to a question about the Iraqi death toll, Mr Bush said about 30,000 Iraqis have been killed since the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

But although it was believed to be the first time Mr Bush has publicly offered such an estimate, his aides quickly pointed out that the president was not offering an official estimate.

"There is not an official US government estimate," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. He said the 30,000 figure was based on "public estimates cited by media reports."

Mr Bush needs a relatively smooth showing during Thursday's election in Iraq to hold up as a sign of progress and try to counter daily news of suicide bombings and US troop deaths -- more than 2100 since the start of the war -- that have soured the American public on the war.

Mr Bush's figure for the death toll among Iraqis was in the range given by Iraq Body Count, a US-British non-governmental group, which currently says between 27,383 and 30,892 civilians -- rather than all Iraqi citizens -- have been killed in Iraq since the invasion.

Its figures are based on media reports, which often fail to capture all deaths in the country. Other estimates, including one done by scientists and published in the medical journal Lancet, put the civilian death toll as high as 100,000.

A couple of hundred protesters waved antiwar signs and yelled across the street from the Philadelphia hotel where Mr Bush spoke. They yelled "shame, shame, shame" at his motorcade when he left.

Mr Bush denounced the presence of prisons in Iraq "where mostly Sunni men were held, some of whom have appeared to have been beaten and tortured."

"This conduct is unacceptable, and the prime minister and other Iraqi officials have condemned these abuses, and an investigation has been launched and we support these efforts. Those who committed these crimes must be held to account," Mr Bush said.

The Iraqi government said that 13 prisoners found in another prison in Baghdad, in addition to a secret bunker found last month and operated by the Interior Ministry, showed signs of abuse.

Mr Bush is fighting to get his second term back on track after a year in which Americans lost faith in his ability to manage the war and a growing number came to believe his administration misled them in making the case for the invasion.

Asked if the threat of terrorism on US soil has been reduced significantly since invading Iraq, Mr Bush said: "I think it's been reduced. I don't think we're safe."

"What will really give me confidence to say that we're safe is when I can tell the American people we've got the capacity to know exactly where the enemy is moving," Mr Bush said.



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