WASHINGTON – President Bush said Thursday that the United States and its allies have thwarted at least 10 serious terrorist plots by al-Qaida – three of them on American soil – and have blocked five attempts to case targets or infiltrate the country since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Bush’s revelation came in a speech that administration officials billed as a major address designed to stem slipping domestic support for the war in Iraq and to drive home the relevance of the war on terrorism to Americans.

Bush used his strongest language to date in labeling Iraq as the central battleground in the war on terror and describing efforts by insurgents, Osama bin Laden, and other terrorists to force the United States out of the Middle East and to create a “totalitarian empire” from Spain to Indonesia.

“Some might be tempted to dismiss these goals as fanatical or extreme,” Bush said. “Well, they are fanatical and extreme – and should not be dismissed. Our enemy is utterly committed. … And the civilized world knows very well that other fanatics in history, from Hitler to Stalin to Pol Pot, consumed whole nations in war and genocide before leaving the stage of history.”

In Baghdad, government officials from various parties agreed with Bush that insurgents are using Iraq as a staging ground. But they said a failed U.S. policy led them there.

Some said that while they are grateful that multinational forces liberated their country from Saddam Hussein’s tyranny, they are frustrated by this new threat to the nation. They contend that better military planning could have prevented the insurgency from burgeoning within their borders.

Most believe the insurgency first consisted largely of former Baathists loyal to Saddam but since has expanded to include foreign fighters and everyday Iraqis frustrated by the country’s current state.

“If he is right, then all thanks goes to Mr. Bush,” said Sadoun al-Zubaydi, a Sunni Muslim who both advised on and opposes the new Iraqi constitution that is being crafted. “He has no one to blame but himself.”

In an effort to show the seriousness of the terrorist threat and its potential impact on American shores, Bush said that al-Qaida has unsuccessfully attempted 10 terrorist plots, three within the United States.

“We’ve stopped at least five more al-Qaida efforts to case targets in the United States or infiltrate operatives into our country,” he said. “Because of this steady progress, the enemy is wounded – but the enemy is still capable of global operations.”

Bush gave no specifics on the thwarted plots. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told reporters that some of the information is classified. National Security Council officials were working Thursday afternoon to get some of the information declassified, an administration official said.

In the meantime, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan cited the cases of Jose Padilla and Iyman Faris as foiled terrorist attempts. Federal authorities arrested Padilla at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport in May 2002 and charged him with plotting to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in the United States. Faris, a Columbus, Ohio, truck driver pleaded guilty in May 2003 to helping al-Qaida leaders plot against U.S. targets, including the Brooklyn Bridge.

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Bush said these examples show that America needs to combat terror in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan to prevent more terrorist efforts at home.

“Some observers also claim that America would be better off by cutting our losses and leaving Iraq now,” Bush said. “This is a dangerous illusion, refuted with a simple question: Would the United States and other free nations be more safe, or less safe with (Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al) Zarqawi and bin Laden in control of Iraq, its people and its resources? Having removed a dictator who hated free peoples, we will not stand by as a new set of killers, dedicated to the destruction of our own country, seizes control of Iraq by violence.”

Bush also had harsh words for Iran and Syria, describing them as “helpers and enablers” that “share the goal of hurting America and moderate Muslim governments, and use terrorist propaganda to blame their own failures on the West and America and on the Jews.”

Bush delivered his speech amid polls showing declining domestic support for a war that so far has claimed the lives of more than 1,940 members of the U.S. military. A CNN/Gallup/USA Today survey last month found 32 percent of those surveyed approved of Bush’s handling of the war.

The president also has found support for his handling of the war eroding on Capitol Hill, even among Republicans. Congressional Democrats pounced on Bush’s comments as misleading.

“Once again the president had an opportunity to lay out for the American people the facts on the ground in Iraq and his strategy to achieve the military, political and economic success needed in order to bring our troops home,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “Instead, the president continued to falsely assert there is a link between the war in Iraq and the tragedy of September 11, a link that did not and does not exist.”




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