President George W. Bush, facing waning support for his Iraq policy, appealed on Tuesday to Americans not to waver because of the rising death toll and again rejected protesters' calls for a troop withdrawal.
With Americans already worried about sharply rising oil prices, Bush said a pull-out would allow al Qaeda to take hold of Iraq's oil fields to fund new attacks, as well as damage America's credibility.
With nearly 1,900 U.S. troops killed in Iraq and anti-war protesters trailing him from his secluded Texas ranch to California, Bush has seen his job approval ratings plummet to the lowest levels of his presidency.
In a speech in which he sought to cast the conflict as the modern day equivalent of America's World War Two struggle against Japan, which ended 60 years ago this month, Bush said Americans "once again" had a stark choice to make.
"Now as then our enemies have made their fight a test of American credibility and resolve. Now as then they are trying to intimidate free people and break our will," Bush said.
"This is the choice we face: Do we return to the pre-Sept. 11 mind-set of isolation and retreat? Or do we continue to take the fight to the enemy and support our allies in the broader Middle East?" Bush said.
"I've made my decision. We will stay on the offensive. We will stand with the people of Iraq and we will prevail," Bush said, reports Reuters.
According to Boston Globe, the growing death toll has become a regular feature of the slightly larger protests that Bush now encounters everywhere he goes - a movement boosted by a vigil set up in a field down the road from the president's ranch by a mother grieving the loss of her soldier son in Iraq.
Cindy Sheehan arrived in Crawford only days after Bush did, asking for a meeting so he could explain why her son and others are dying in Iraq. The White House refused, and Sheehan's camp turned into a hub of activity for hundreds of activists around the country demanding that troops be brought home.
This week, the administration also had to defend the proposed constitution produced in Iraq at US urging. Critics fear the impact of its rejection by many Sunnis, and say it fails to protect religious freedom and women's rights.
Rescuers found the pilot of one of the two Su-34 fighters that had collided in midair in the Far East on January 18
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