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Bush to Iraqi militants ''Bring them on''
By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON, July 2 U.S. President George W. Bush on Wednesday had a tough message for Iraqi militants attacking U.S. troops -- ''Bring them on'' -- and said the U.S. military presence was sufficient to deal with the attackers.



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       Bush spoke in the face of increasing American concern about the rising casualty toll among U.S. troops. At least 23 American servicemen have been killed by hostile fire since Bush declared major combat operations over on May 1.
       ''There are some who feel like that conditions are such that they can attack us there,'' Bush told reporters at the White House. ''My answer is: Bring them on. We have the force necessary to deal with the situation.''
       New Jersey Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg sharply criticized Bush for the ''bring them on'' comment.
       ''I am shaking my head in disbelief. When I served in the army in Europe during World War II, I never heard any military commander -- let alone the commander in chief -- invite enemies to attack U.S. troops,'' said Lautenberg in a statement.
       A senior Pentagon official said Army Gen. John Abizaid, who will take charge of the U.S. Central Command next week, was studying whether to add forces, reposition them or use different types of troops in Iraq.
       The United States blames the resistance on ousted President Saddam Hussein's Baath party loyalists, militants from the Ansar al-Islam group who have relocated to operate in the Sunni Muslim ''heartland'' of Iraq, and groups tied to al Qaeda associate Ayman al-Zawahiri.
       ''There's people there that (would) like to run us out of there, create the conditions where we get nervous and decide to leave. We're not going to get nervous,'' Bush said.

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       He said it was ''just a matter of time'' before evidence was found of Iraqi weapons of destruction programs. The president had justified the invasion partly on the imminent threat such weapons posed, but so far none have been discovered.
       Trying to blunt criticism from some Democratic presidential candidates that Bush misled the public on the issue, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, at his daily briefing, read a 1998 statement from the Senate floor from one of those candidates, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman.
       Lieberman spoke of fears that Saddam would use weapons of mass destruction that ''we know he has.''
       In any event, Bush said, Saddam was a threat to his own people based on the mass graves containing the remains of Saddam opponents that have been found. ''We have uncovered some unbelievable scenes,'' he said.
       A USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll this week found that the share of Americans who said things were going well for U.S. forces in Iraq had dropped to 56 percent from 70 percent a month ago.
       Bush, who on Tuesday said the United States faced a massive and long-term undertaking in Iraq, said Washington welcomed troop contributions from other countries but that the force there now was enough ''to make sure the situation is secure.''
       Fleischer said it was unclear how long U.S. troops would remain in Iraq except that it will be as long as it takes to restore security. Some members of Congress say U.S. troops could be there five years.
       The United States and its allies have about 150,000 troops in Iraq and the Pentagon is considering whether it might need to increase that force.

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