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Bush Defends Iraq Policy, Sees Hope in Middle East

President Bush is urging Americans to stand together in the fight against terrorism and the struggle to bring democracy to Iraq and peace to the Middle East. The appeal comes at a time when war casualties are mounting and opinion polls show slipping support for the president's policy in Iraq.

President Bush says America's security is linked to progress in Iraq and the greater Middle East.

"As more nations replace tyranny with liberty, and replace hatred with hope, America will be more secure," he said. "Our nation has accepted a mission, and we are moving forward with resolve."

The comments came in a speech to members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars at their national convention in Salt Lake City, Utah. Mr. Bush said the task of securing freedom is the work of generations, praising the efforts of American troops both past and present.

"Freedom has contended with hateful ideologies before," continued Mr. Bush. "We defeated fascism, we defeated communism. We will defeat the hateful ideology of the terrorists who have attacked America."

The president swore once again that terrorists who seek to block the tide of freedom in the Middle East will fail.

Speaking just a few hours before the deadline for submission of a draft constitution to the Iraqi parliament, Mr. Bush praised the courage of Iraqi leaders seeking to build a peaceful, free society. He said these are historic times, but added that America is well aware of the difficult negotiations involved in creating a constitution that will stand the test of time and reflect the values of the Iraqi people.

"Americans understand the challenges facing the framers of Iraq's new constitution. We admire their thoughtful deliberations," he said. "We salute their determination to lay the framework for lasting democracy in the ruins of a brutal dictatorship."

[Later, the White House issued a statement welcoming Iraq's draft constitution as another step forward in its democratic process.

It says the three day delay will give Iraqis time to reach a consensus and noted that democracy is a difficult and often slow process. The White House statement added that Americans look forward to seeing Iraq's constitutional draft finalized Thursday.]

President Bush also took note of what he described as hopeful signs in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

"This past week, Prime Minister Sharon and the Israeli people took a courageous and painful step by beginning to remove settlements in Gaza and parts of the northern West Bank," said. Mr. Bush. "The Israeli disengagement is an historic step that reflects the bold leadership of Prime Minister Sharon. "

The speech in Salt Lake City is the first of two the president will deliver this week on Iraq, the Middle East and the war on terrorism. On Wednesday, he will speak in the state of Idaho, where he is also expected to meet privately with troops based in the state.

President Bush easily won both states in last year's election, and support for his policies there has been high. But his speech drew anti-war protesters to Salt Lake City. Mr. Bush made no direct comment on the demonstrators in his address to the veteran's group, nor did he mention Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq who is leading a protest near his Texas ranch. Instead, the president made a point of recognizing the contributions of all America's war dead, saying the nation mourns with their grieving families.