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Bush Officials Continue Defense of Iraq Mission - 2003-10-10

Two more American soldiers have been killed and at least four more have been wounded in what the Pentagon is describing as an ambush in Baghdad late Thursday. The incident occurred as the Bush administration strikes back at what public opinion polls suggest is growing skepticism about the U.S. mission in Iraq.

Thousands of Iraqi Shiites march through a Baghdad suburb chanting "No to America." Local residents say two Shiites were among those killed in a shootout Thursday night with American troops.

U.S. Central Command spokesman Major Mike Escudie says soldiers were on a routine patrol Thursday night when they came under fire from an unknown source in a run down part of the Iraqi capital.

"It was an ambush, details beyond that we do not have yet," he said.

But unlike previous attacks, this one took place in an area dominated by Shi'ites, a group that since the fall of Saddam Hussein, has enjoyed newfound freedom after being suppressed by the Iraqi leader for decades. Most of the attacks on coalition forces have been taking place in areas of the country where Sunni Muslims have dominated.

More than 90 American soldiers have now been killed in post-war Iraq. And, as the attacks continue, so does a stepped up effort by the Bush administration to respond to what polls suggest is an American public increasingly skeptical about U.S. involvement there. Friday, Vice President Dick Cheney struck back, defending the administration's rationale for going to war, arguing that even though no weapons of mass destruction have been found, the United States would have been negligent not to take action against the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

"Some claim we should not have acted because the threat from Saddam Hussein was not imminent," he said. "Yet as the president has said, since when have the terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike?"

But six months after the fall of Baghdad, critics argue the fact that no weapons of mass destruction have yet been found means Iraq was not the threat that the Bush administration told the world it was in the months before the war.

The White House was also put on the defensive Friday by unusual public criticism from the International Red Cross, this having to do with the on-going war in Afghanistan. Red Cross spokeswoman Amanda Williamson calls it unacceptable that the U.S. military continues to indefinitely detain without charge hundreds of suspected members of al-Qaida classified by the Pentagon as enemy combatants, who were picked up during the Afghan war.

"The question that's most often asked of our delegates is what is happening to me, when am I going to go home, am I ever going to go home?," he said.

The Red Cross is allowed to monitor the treatment of those being held at a U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. White House spokesman Scott McClellan says the rights of the detainees are being upheld even though the administration has not said whether they will be brought to trial or when they will be released.

"These individuals are being treated well. They are being treated in accordance with the standards of the Geneva Convention," he said.

The Pentagon says it has received valuable intelligence from interrogating some of the detainees. Some of that information U.S. officials say, may have helped thwart terrorist plots.