The Bush administration is mourning the loss of 15 U.S. soldiers in an attack on a transport helicopter near Baghdad. But at the same time, administration officials are vowing to stay the course in Iraq.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld spoke for the administration on this bloody Sunday.
In a series of interviews on American television, he offered condolences to the families of the dead. He called the attack a national tragedy. "It is clearly a tragic day for America and for these young men and young women," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Such tragedies, he told the ABC's This Week, are regrettably part of the very nature of war. "In a long hard war, we are going to have tragic days, as this is. But they are necessary. They are part of a war that is difficult and complicated," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
It was the deadliest attack on American forces in Iraq since the conclusion of major combat operations in May. During an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, Mr. Rumsfeld was asked if he thinks ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is still in the country directing resistance to the American-led coalition.
"I think he is alive. I think he is probably in Iraq. He probably is in Northern Iraq. And he undoubtedly has ways to communicate, imperfect ways, probably by couriers, with some other people. Is he masterminding some major activity? It is difficult to know, but unlikely," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
He said three factions are involved in recent attacks: criminals, foreign terrorists and Saddam Hussein loyalists. The defense secretary told Fox News Sunday, remnants of the Baathist regime would fail in their efforts to take over Iraq.
"They want to take that country back and they are not going to. They are not going to come close to taking that country back," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
President Bush was at his Texas ranch at the time of the attack. Aides said he was told about the helicopter shoot-down by members of his staff and was receiving regular updates.
Meanwhile, a new public opinion poll by the Washington Post and the ABC broadcast network shows a split in public opinion on Iraq. It indicates that the war has become a major partisan issue, with the level of support for the president's policies running much higher among members of his Republican party than among opposition Democrats.
During an appearance on the CBS news program Face the Nation, Congressman Richard Gephardt, who is seeking the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, raised questions about the way the Bush administration has handled the Iraq war.
"The president has not done this in the way I had hoped that he would, and advised him to do it from the beginning. And that was to get the help that we have needed from the beginning from the U.N., from NATO, from other countries in the world," Mr. Gephardt said.
Mr. Gephardt said the Bush administration needs to make a greater effort to reach out to nations that opposed the war, in particular France, Germany and Russia.