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Pentagon Official Confident of Continuing US Public Support for Iraq Policy

A top Pentagon official says he does not believe the ongoing attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq will erode public support at home for their mission. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz defended the Bush administration's Iraq policy Sunday in a series of broadcast interviews.

Paul Wolfowitz is the number two official at the Pentagon, and is seen by many in Washington as an architect of the president's policy on Iraq.

He said the Bush administration knew the deaths of Saddam Hussein's sons last week in a shootout with U.S. troops, could lead to retaliatory attacks. He acknowledged there is a high price to pay to bring peace to Iraq. But he says the American people believe it is a price worth paying. "Any American death is a terrible thing. But I think the American public understands that when you are fighting a war against terrorists, when you are fighting for the security of this country, that sacrifice is something that you'd have to expect," he said.

During an appearance on the Fox News Sunday television program, Mr. Wolfowitz said American troops continue to face danger in Iraq months after President Bush declared the end of major combat operations. He said the soldiers and their families are making spectacular sacrifices in order to make the world more secure for generations to come. "The battle to win the peace in Iraq now is the central battle in the war on terrorism. And what these troops are doing, and they understand the mission, is something that is going to make our country safer," he said.

The deputy defense secretary recently returned from a trip to Iraq. He told NBC's Meet the Press that the demise of Saddam Hussein's sons has lessened the fear of the Iraqi people, and more Iraqis are now providing information to American personnel. "In the last week alone, we have picked up 660 surface-to-air missiles. That is the product of the increased intelligence the Iraqi people are providing us," he said.

The commander of U.S. led coalition forces carried on that theme in a subsequent appearance on CNN's Late Edition. Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez said there has been progress in Iraq. But he acknowledged there is a long way to go, adding that coalition troops face a multi-faceted resistance made up of Saddam Hussein loyalists, criminals, hired assassins and terrorist elements. "What we are trying to undo here is 35 years of tyranny, of brutality, of neglected infrastructure, of just sheer neglect across all of the spectrums of this country, and it is not going to be done in two or three months," he said.

The general was asked about reports that coalition troops are now closing in on Saddam Hussein. He urged caution, but noted the ousted Iraqi leader remains the top coalition target and vowed he will be found.