President George W. Bush on Thursday rejected a growing chorus of calls for a swift US withdrawal from Iraq as he warned of escalating violence there ahead of an October constitutional referendum.
"Some Americans want us to withdraw our troops so that we can escape the violence," he said in remarks after getting a briefing at the Pentagon. "I recognize their good intentions, but their position is wrong."
Bush's comments came as he faced recent polls showing a collapse in popular support for the war and his handling of it, and as anti-war protestors planned a major demonstration for today in Washington.
"Withdrawing our troops would make the world more dangerous and make America less safe. To leave Iraq now would be to repeat the costly mistakes of the past that led to the attacks of September the 11th, 2001," he said.
Bush said terrorists had drawn strength from what he called weak US responses to the 1979 hostage crisis in Iran, the Beirut Marine barracks bombing, the 1993 World Trade Center blast, the killing of US soldiers in Somalia, the attacks on two US embassies in Africa as well as the USS Cole.
"The terrorists concluded that we lacked the courage and character to defend ourselves, and so they attacked us. Now the terrorists are testing our will and resolve in Iraq," said the president. "Our withdrawal from Iraq would allow the terrorists to claim an historic victory over the United States."
Bush said Washington had increased its troop strength in Iraq ahead of an October referendum on the war-torn country's draft constitution and warned that extremists would escalate their attacks ahead of that political milestone.
"As Iraqis prepare to vote on their constitution in October and elect a permanent government in December, we must be prepared for more violence," he cautioned, adding that extremists sought "to set off a civil war."
Some 1,900 US troops have died in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion to oust Saddam Hussein, while recent polls show mounting support for quickly bringing home the roughly 140,000 US forces deployed there.