July 23, 2003 at 5:29 PM CDT - Updated June 23 at 3:39 AM
President Bush on Wednesday hailed the deaths of Saddam Hussein's two sons as the clearest sign yet that "the former regime is gone and will not be coming back."
Yet in a Rose Garden appearance, Bush said that attacks from remaining holdouts continue to complicate the task of U.S.-led coalition forces. He appealed for more international military and financial support for postwar Iraq.
Even as the White House celebrated the deaths of Odai and Qusai Hussein, questions continued to dog the administration over the president's use of discredited intelligence to bolster his case for war with Iraq.
On Tuesday, the top aide to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice took the blame for allowing a tainted report suggesting Iraq was trying to buy uranium in Africa to find its way into Bush's January State of the Union address.
Deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley said two CIA memos and a call from CIA Director George Tenet had persuaded him to take a similar passage out of a presidential speech in October - and that he should have done likewise when it turned up again in State of the Union drafts.
Democrats called for a bipartisan investigation. "These disclosures...raise more and more questions," said Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
In his Rose Garden remarks, Bush called Saddam's two sons "two of the regime's chief henchmen ... responsible for torture, maiming and murder of countless Iraqis."
"Now more than ever all Iraqis can know that the former regime is gone and will not be coming back" Bush said, standing with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. occupation governor for Iraq.
Bush praised Bremer's work.
"We have made progress, steady progress, in restoring hope in a nation beaten down by decades of tyranny," Bush said. He said that 19 nations were providing more than 13,000 troops "to help stabilize Iraq" and that additional help "will soon arrive."
Still, he said that "a few remaining holdouts are trying to prevent the advance of order and freedom....These killers are the enemies of Iraq's people. They operate mainly in a few areas of the country. And wherever they operate, they are being hunted, and will be defeated."
Even as officials confirmed that Saddam's two sons were killed Tuesday in a firefight with U.S. troops, a soldier with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment died when his convoy driving between Balad and Ar Ramadi was ambushed and two more were killed Wednesday in separate attacks on convoys.
Bush did not mention the latest casualties.
But he urged "the nations of the world to contribute militarily and financially" to help stabilize Iraq.
With a presidential election approaching, Bush is coming under increasing pressure to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq.
The president's progress report on Iraq came as the White House pressed a full-scale damage control effort in an attempt to divert attention away from a growing furor over prewar intelligence lapses.
Bush aides said the president was upset by Hadley's failure to come forward with the CIA objections, but turned down what amounted to an offer by Hadley to resign. Bush "has full confidence" in his national security team, including Hadley and CIA Director George Tenet, White House communications director Dan Bartlett said.
"The process failed," Bartlett said.
Tenet earlier this month offered a public apology for not flagging the Iraq-Africa sentence when the CIA reviewed a draft of Bush's Jan. 28 State of the Union address.
In that address, Bush said: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
Those 16 words have come back to haunt him as details surfaced suggesting that U.S. intelligence agencies did not agree with the British assessment.
Hadley told reporters he had received two memos from the CIA and a phone call from Tenet raising objections to a section in a speech Bush was to give in Cincinnati on Oct. 7.
As a result, he had the statement - an allegation that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium ore in Africa to use in building nuclear weapons - removed from the draft. But he suggested the entire episode slipped his mind when Bush's State of the Union speech was being vetted.
The memos, dated Oct. 5 and Oct. 7, were discovered over the weekend.
Both were addressed to Hadley and to presidential speechwriter Michael Gerson.
Gerson "had no recollections" of details contained in the memos or of the controversy itself, Bartlett said.
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved.