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Bush Optimistic Yet Cautious About Gains in Iraq - 2003-04-09

President Bush said he is pleased to see progress in the military campaign in Iraq, and heartened by the celebrations in the streets of Baghdad. But at the same time, he warns the war is not over and dangers remain.

The White House is mixing optimism and caution.

Spokesman Ari Fleischer said historic events are unfolding in the streets of Baghdad and President Bush is pleased. "The president is heartened by what he has seen in the streets of Baghdad because he knows people are becoming free," Mr. Fleischer said.

But at the same time, Mr. Fleischer said the president believes Iraq remains a dangerous place, and realizes the U.S.-led coalition is still involved in a shooting war. "We still need to be cautious because we still have our armed forces in harm's way. There still is fighting ahead of us," he said.

He spoke as U.S. television networks showed video of jubilant Iraqis in parts of the capital city, mixed with pictures of looting, and live coverage of sporadic gunfire.

Mr. Fleischer called the celebrations "a powerful testament to mankind's desire to be free." But he stressed they are only part of the story. "What you are watching in Baghdad is that which the camera lens can show you in Baghdad. Baghdad is a large, large city in terms of people and size. There are other areas of Baghdad that are dangerous areas of Baghdad where fighting can still take place," Mr. Fleischer said.

But the lasting image of this day from the Iraqi capital was one of joy as people danced in the streets and pulled down a massive statue of Saddam Hussein in a city square.

The White House spokesman said Mr. Bush watched some of the dramatic television coverage stopping by a television set just outside the oval office between meetings.

The president was not seen in public during the day and kept a low profile. But Vice President Dick Cheney spoke out saying the coalition's war strategy is now a proven success.

"The conclusion of the war will mark one of the most extraordinary military campaigns ever conducted," Mr. Cheney said.

Mr. Cheney told a national convention of newspaper editors in New Orleans, Louisiana, that with each passing day, the wisdom of the war plan becomes more apparent.