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'Iraq Will be Free' Bush Promises - 2003-03-29

President Bush says the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq is less than 80 kilometers from Baghdad. The president and opposition party leaders are talking about how to pay for the war in Iraq..

President Bush held a secure video conference with members of his war council to discuss the latest fighting. Mr. Bush is at the presidential retreat at Camp David where White House officials say he will continue to monitor the war's progress.

In his weekly radio address, Mr. Bush said coalition forces have made steady progress toward the Iraqi capital where they are now facing some of Saddam Hussein's toughest fighters in the Republican Guard.

"We are now fighting the most desperate units of the dictator's army," the president said. "The fighting is fierce and we do not know its duration, yet we know the outcome of this battle. The Iraqi regime will be disarmed and removed from power. Iraq will be free."

Mr. Bush has spent much of the last week trying to downplay expectations that the war might be over soon. He says there is no timeline for a fight that will continue "however long it takes" to topple Saddam Hussein and disarm his military.

The president says the first week of combat has shown that Iraq continues to rule by terror - executing prisoners of war and murdering civilians who refuse to fight.

"Some in the Iraqi military have pretended to surrender, then opened fire on coalition forces that showed them mercy. Given the nature of this regime, we expect such war crimes, but we will not excuse them," Mr. Bush said. "War criminals will be hunted relentlessly and judged severely."

Mr. Bush says those atrocities justify the urgency of the U.S.-led invasion. In contrast, he says coalition troops are going to what he calls "extraordinary lengths" to spare innocent lives and provide food and water to civilians in areas under their control.

The president again asked Congress to spend nearly $75 billion to help pay for the war over the next six months. Congressional Democrats say they will approve that money but question the president's priorities for the next fiscal year, including his $726 billion tax cut.

In the Democratic response to the president's radio address, North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan said the president's budget would lead to the biggest deficits in U.S. history.

"That doesn't make sense to me," the senator said. "I don't think it's right to ask our soldiers to fight this war and then not ask our citizens to pay for it."

The White House says it will offset some of the costs of the war by using profits from Iraqi oil sales to fund some relief and reconstruction efforts under the U.N. monitored oil-for-food program.