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Bush: No Iraq, Afghan Withdrawal Before Mission Completed - 2003-11-14

President Bush says U.S. forces will stay in Iraq and Afghanistan until they have found Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

President Bush says it is "inconceivable" that U.S. troops would pull out of Afghanistan or Iraq "until the job is done."

In an interview with London's Financial Times, Mr. Bush was then asked if finishing that job includes finding the former Iraqi leader and the head of the al-Qaida terrorist group.

The president responded, "Yes, that's part of it. But even bigger is a free and democratic society. That's the mission."

Speaking to reporters at the White House during a meeting with Italian President Carlo Ciampi, Mr. Bush echoed those sentiments though stopped short of setting Saddam's capture as a pre-condition for any U.S. withdrawal.

"We will find Saddam Hussein," he said. "The goal is for a free and peaceful Iraq and by being strong and determined, we will achieve that objective."

As the president pushes for a quicker return to self-rule in Iraq, his commitment to finding Saddam Hussein raises questions about the autonomy of a future government in Baghdad.

Part of the deal setting up Hamid Karzai's administration in Afghanistan was that it would allow U.S. forces to stay in the country to search for Mr. bin Laden and conduct other operations against al-Qaida and Taleban remnants.

Unless U.S. forces capture Saddam Hussein before installing a new sovereign government in Iraq, a similar deal would have to be struck with that government to allow those forces to continue their search.

President Bush says he has sent the U.S. administrator for Iraq, Ambassador Paul Bremer, back to Baghdad to work with the U.S. appointed governing council to speed up the political process in what Mr. Bush calls a "rational way."

The governing council is better prepared to take more responsibility. In terms of security, we will do whatever it takes to help Iraq develop into a free and peaceful country. That is our goal, and we will stay there until the job is done and then we will leave.

The president says the enemy in Iraq has changed its tactics on the ground, so the coalition is changing its response to speed-up the political transition and strike back at those responsible for continuing violence.