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Last Updated:  Thursday, 3 April, 2003, 20:21 GMT 21:21 UK
Bush urges troops to victory

By Steve Schifferes
BBC News Online, Washington

The President is increasingly appearing with the troops
US President George W Bush has stepped up the pace of public appearances as he rallies the nation behind the war effort.

On Thursday Mr Bush visited the headquarters of the Marine Corps expeditionary force to report on progress of the war as troops closed on Baghdad.

"A vice is closing and the days of a brutal regime is coming to an end," he said.

Mr Bush seems untroubled by the doubts that have surfaced in Washington about the conduct of the war as he talked to the 20,000 troops and their families, many of whom are destined to depart shortly for the Gulf.

We will accept nothing less than complete and final victory
President George W Bush
"What we have begun, we will finish .. our destination is Baghdad, and we will accept nothing less than complete and final victory," the President said.

Recent opinion polls have shown continued strong support for the US war effort, but also increasing concern that the war might be longer, and more costly in civilian and military casualties, than originally thought.

And the post-war vision Mr Bush has sought to articulate, of a liberated Iraqi people choosing their own destiny, has become more cloudy as fighting has continued in the rear areas and in populated cities.

Out of the bunker

The president, in seeking to strengthen public support for his war plan, has changed his strategy.

In the first days of the war, he was content to manage events from his rural retreat of Camp David, and his press secretary said that he believed that fighting the war was best left to the experts.

Last week, however, Mr Bush journeyed to Tampa, Florida, the headquarters of Centcom, which is in charge of the Iraq war effort, to meet the troops.

And on Tuesday he flew to Philadelphia to a Coast Guard base, where he spoke about homeland security - which is to be expanded as part of the supplementary bill for the war.

Mr Bush has been careful to appear only in places where he will get an enthusiastic hearing for his remarks, as small-scale anti-war demonstrations continue around the country.

But the increasing pace of public appearances is also designed to send a message to Congress, which is embroiled in several disputes over his domestic agenda.

Fractious Congress

Mr Bush is hoping that his increased standing as a war leader will help him pass the $726bn tax cut that is currently being debated in a Senate-House reconciliation committee.

Moderate Republican Senators reduced the tax cut - which Mr Bush believes is essential for reviving the US economy - but half, on the grounds that it would create too large a budget deficit.

And Mr Bush is unhappy at Congressional meddling with his $75bn war appropriation which is being voted on this week.

The House of Representatives has threatened to remove$1bn in aid to Turkey from the request, and transferred the $2.5bn in reconstruction aid from control of the Pentagon to the State Department.

Both the Senate and House look set to add $3.5bn in aid to US airlines, many of whom are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

And Democrats are pushing for an extra $5bn in aid to cities and states to boost their efforts to fight terrorism.

At stake is whether Mr Bush, unlike his father, can use his increased status to transform his domestic standing at a time when many Americans are just as worried about terrorism and the economy as the war.

The BBC's Matt Frei
"They've already sent 17,000 soldiers to the front from here"

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