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Bush Meets with 'War Council' as Coalition Forces Advance on Basra - 2003-03-22

President Bush convened a meeting of his war council Saturday as U.S. and British forces advance on the key southern Iraqi city of Basra.

President Bush met with senior cabinet officials to review the day's military operations.

He convened a meeting of his National Security Council at the presidential retreat at Camp David, which included Vice-President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and CIA Director George Tenet.

In his weekly radio address, the president said the conflict in Iraq could be longer and more difficult than some have predicted. Rebuilding the country will also require a sustained commitment, and Mr. Bush says Washington will carry out the duties it has accepted in launching this invasion to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and disarm the military.

"The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder," the president said. " Now that conflict has come, the only way to limit its duration is to apply decisive force. This will not be a campaign of half-measures. It is a fight for the security of our nation and the peace of the world, and we will accept no outcome but victory."

The president began this war without the support of the United Nations Security Council where France, Russia and China all wanted to disarm Iraq peacefully by continuing weapons inspections.

Mr. Bush says he was forced to act to disarm Iraq by the immediacy of the threat that Saddam Hussein could help terrorists use chemical or biological weapons.

Without U.N. support, the president assembled what he calls "a coalition of the willing" to attack Iraq. He says "the future of peace and the hopes of the Iraqi people" now depend on that fighting force.

"In this war, our coalition is broad, more than 40 countries from across the globe. Our cause is just, the security of the nations we serve and the peace of the world," Mr. Bush said. "And our mission is clear, to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein's support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people."

U.S. public opinion polls show an increase in support for the president, which usually happens with the nation engaged in military conflict.

But there continue to be sharp divisions between the political parties with a New York Times / CBS News poll showing 93 percent of Republicans backing the president but only half of Democrats approving of the way he is handling Iraq.

In the Democratic response California Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi did not endorse her handling of the war but voiced her party's support for U.S. troops.

"As leaders in Congress, we pledge to our forces and families you will have all the support you will need to win this war and to win the peace," she said.

The House minority leader voted against last year's congressional resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. But like most Democratic leaders she is temporing her criticism of the president while the country is at war.