Faced with escalating violence in Iraq and growing domestic scepticism over the military adventure, Bush in a rare news conference on Tuesday put up a brave face and insisted that a "liberated Iraq" would help to secure the United States.

Highlighting what he called, the "serious violence" that has erupted in Iraq, Bush said: "... I have directed our military commanders to make every preparation to use decisive force if necessary to maintain order and to protect our troops."

More than 75 US soldiers have been killed in Iraq since 1 April in the bloodiest two weeks for the US military since the fall of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein one year ago.

Clashes with resistance fighters
have left several US soldiers dead

Concern in the US has also mounted as thousands of troops have seen their return from Iraq delayed by the mounting unrest. The defence department is deciding whether to send reinforcements following a request for extra "combat power" from the head of US central command.

Bush flatly rejected comparisons between the fighting in Iraq and the 1961-75 Vietnam war as "false," but said the United States had an "open ended" commitment to help the Iraqi people.

"We have set a deadline of June 30. It is important that we meet the deadline. As a proud and independent people, Iraqis do not support an indefinite occupation and neither does America," Bush said.

Calls for more troops

Bush said he wants a new UN Security Council resolution to try to convince more nations to send troops to aid US-led efforts in Iraq.

Bush might increase the number
of US soldiers in Iraq

"I would like to get another UN Security Council resolution out that will help other nations to decide to participate," Bush said.

Bush said that additional forces and resources would be sent if needed to back the central commitment of the June 30 transfer of power by the occupation authorities to an interim US-appointed Iraqi government.

"Were the coalition to step back from the June 30 pledge, many Iraqis would question our intentions and feel their hopes betrayed. And those in Iraq who trade in hatred and conspiracy theories would find a larger audience and gain a stronger hand."

Falluja

Referring to the resistance faced by US-led occupation troops in the restive town of Falluja, Bush called on the fighters to hand over the city to the Iraqi authorities and hand over those responsible for the killing of four American contractors last week.

The US army's six-day siege of
Falluja left up to 600 dead

The occupation used that incident to launch a full-scale invasion and attack on the town of Falluja, resulting in its residents struggling under a six-day siege. The siege left up to 600 people dead, including women and children.

Bush also called on Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr to disband his army in Iraq.

"We will succeed in Iraq", insisted Bush. "We're carrying out a decision that has already been made and will not change. Iraq will be a free, independent country, and America and the United States will be safer because of it", he added.

Commission on 9/11

"... I have directed our military commanders to make every preparation to use decisive force if necessary to maintain order and to protect our troops"

George Bush
US president

Bush also faced grilling at the news conference on his handling of US counter-terrorism efforts before the September 2001 attacks.

In the face of declining ratings in recent opinion polls, Bush said he believed Americans would stand behind him.

Asked if he would see the Iraq war as worthwhile even if he lost his job because of it, the president said "I don’t plan on losing my job."

"I believe they will stay with me," Bush said of American voters.

Kerry critical

"Rather, the president made it clear that he intends to stubbornly cling to the same policy that has led to a greater risk to American troops and a steadily higher cost to the American taxpayer"

John Kerry
US presidential candidate

Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry slammed Bush for failing to offer a plan for stabilising Iraq during his televised speech and press conference.

"Rather, the president made it clear that he intends to stubbornly cling to the same policy that has led to a greater risk to American troops and a steadily higher cost to the American taxpayer," Kerry said in a statement.

"With deaths mounting and American sacrifice increasing, its time he offered a specific plan that secures real international involvement, gets the target off the backs of our troops, and starts to share the burden in Iraq," Kerry said.