Bush calls terror war ‘struggle for civilisation’

In major speech, he also defends Iraq War, but draws flak for politicising 9/11.

IN A speech that ended a day of moving ceremonies, United States President George W. Bush described the fight against extremism as a struggle for civilisation.

“The war against this enemy is more than a military conflict,” he said late on Monday (Tuesday morning Singapore time), the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.

“It is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century and the calling of our generation.”

While staunchly defending the war in Iraq, Mr Bush for the first time conceded that Saddam Hussein was not connected with the attacks on the US on Sept 11, 2001.

Nonetheless, he insisted that the world was safer with him in custody.

“Whatever mistakes have been made in Iraq, the worst mistake would be to think that if we pulled out, the terrorists would leave us alone,” he said. “They will not leave us alone.”

The 17-minute speech interrupted regular TV programming. Mr Bush delivered it from his White House office, five years to the minute from when he addressed the nation after the attacks.

Speaking in an unusually forceful manner that at times bordered on the blunt, he also returned to some of the tough talking of the past.

Taking aim at Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and other terrorists, he vowed: “No matter how long it takes, America will find you.

“We are in a war that will set the course for this new century and determine the destiny of millions across the world.”

But opposition politicians saw the speech as an attempt by Mr Bush to bolster plummeting support for his policies and the Republican political party less than two months before crucial mid-term elections.

Iraq could become the defining issue in the race for an electorate split over continued US occupation in a conflict-prone country where 2,600 American soldiers have already died.

Democrat Senator Charles Schumer from New York charged: “This should have been an occasion to bring everyone together and focus on the tragedy…You do not commemorate the tragedy of 9/11 by politicising it.”

Senator Edward Kennedy, a Democrat of Massachusetts, said that Mr Bush “should be ashamed of using a national day of mourning” to justify his Iraq policy.

The speech capped a day in which thousands gathered across the nation in solemn ceremonies to mark the anniversary of the attacks.

The day of mourning began in New York, at ground zero, when relatives of the nearly 3,000 killed when the World Trade Center collapsed gathered to recite loved ones’ names and hold up their photos.

“I see your face in little Joseph’s smile, and I feel your touch in his hugs,” Ms Lisa Reina said in a tribute to her slain husband, Joseph Reina Jr.

Similar ceremonies were also held in Pennsylvania, where a hijacked plane was brought down after passengers fought off terrorists, and the Pentagon, which was hit by a fourth jet.

BUSH ATTEMPTS TO WIN OVER SCEPTICAL WAR-WEARY NATION, PAGES 16-17

AMERICANS URGED TO BACK IRAQ WAR
“Whatever mistakes have been made in Iraq, the worst mistake would be to think that if we pulled out, the terrorists would leave us alone. They will not leave us alone.”
-PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH, defending the US-led war in Iraq

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