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Bush Said That Troop Withdrawal Would Weaken US

President Bush is taking on critics of his Iraq policy, saying they advocate action that would weaken the United States. Mr. Bush is now facing more anti-war demonstrators as he travels about the country.

There were protestors in Utah Monday when the president gave a speech there to a veterans group. More are expected to turn up when he gives an address Wednesday in Idaho on combating terrorism.

Between the two appearances, Mr. Bush was scheduled to spend a quiet day at a resort in the mountains of Idaho. Instead, he summoned a small group of reporters for an early morning informal question and answer session. He seemed eager to talk about the protestors, and defend his handling of Iraq. Mr. Bush took specific aim at war critics who want him to bring U.S. troops home now.

"I think immediate withdrawal from Iraq would be a mistake. I think those who advocate immediate withdrawal not only from Iraq but from the Middle East are advocating a policy that would weaken the United States," he said.

Mr. Bush gave no indication he plans to meet with Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq who has been leading a vigil near his Texas ranch. She has become a symbol for many in the anti-war movement, but the president noted there are other military families who think differently.

"I appreciate her right to protest and I understand her anguish. I have met with a lot of families. She doesn't represent the view of a lot of families I have met with," he said.

The president pointed to political progress in Iraq, saying that country is on its way to adopting a new constitution. He noted that drafting a democratic constitution after years of dictatorship is difficult, but added he is optimistic.

Mr. Bush was asked about the possibility that Iraq's Sunni Muslims might reject the document and step up the insurgency.

"The Sunnis have got to make a choice. Do they want to live in a society that is free or do they want to live in violence? I suspect most mothers, no matter what their religion might be, will choose a free society so the children grow up in a peaceful world," he said.

President Bush said the adoption of a democratic constitution by the Iraqi people is going to be an important change for the broader Middle East. He indicated he believes it is already a region in flux, noting once again that Israel has taken the unprecedented step of dismantling settlements Gaza.

He said the next step must be to help Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas establish a working government in the area. He said the world must stay focused on Gaza, indicating success there would set the stage for progress in the peace process.

"I understand that in order for this process to go forward there must be confidence - confidence that the Palestinian people will have in their own government to perform, confidence with the Israelis that they'll see a peaceful state emerging," he said.

Mr. Bush said this is a very hopeful period in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He said the disengagement from Gaza has changed the dynamic on the ground, calling it a courageous and tough decision by Israel.