Monday, December 12, 2005

Bush says 30,000 Iraqis killed since war began

PHILADELPHIA, Dec 12 (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush said on Monday about 30,000 Iraqis have been killed since the Iraq war began and predicted this week's election will not be perfect but will be part of a Middle East turning point.

"No nation in history has made the transition to a free society without facing challenges, setbacks and false starts," Bush said in a speech and question-and-answer session at the World Affairs Council, striking a more realistic tone than he has sometimes in the past.

The speech was Bush's third in a series leading up to the election as he tries to bolster support for his Iraq strategy in hopes of bringing home some U.S. troops next year if Iraqi military forces are ready to fight the insurgency.

He needs a relatively smooth showing during Thursday's election in Iraq to hold up as a sign of progress and try to counter daily news of suicide bombings and U.S. troop deaths -- more than 2,100 since the start of the war -- that have soured Americans on the war.

Bush predicted insurgent violence will not end with the election and said much work remains to make Iraq's fledging democracy inclusive to all.

"This week elections won't be perfect, and a successful vote is not the end of the process. Iraqis still have more difficult work ahead," he said, adding, "These enemies aren't going to give up because of a successful election."

Still, he said, with Iraqis turning out three times in crucial votes, "the year 2005 will be recorded as a turning point in the history of Iraq, the history of the Middle East, and the history of freedom."

Asked about the Iraqi death toll, Bush said about 30,000 Iraqis have been killed since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

It was the first time Bush has publicly offered such an estimate. His aides quickly pointed out the president was not offering an official estimate.

"There is not an official U.S. government estimate," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. He said the 30,000 figure was based on "public estimates cited by media reports."

Ohio Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich demanded the Bush administration release all information it has on the number of Iraqi civilian deaths.

"It is far past time for this sort of admission from this White House," he said.

Source : Reuters


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