Bush spars with reporters on Iraq, North Korea
In a Rose Garden press conference, President Bush blasted a new study that estimates 655,000 Iraqis have died because of the war since March of 2003 as "just not credible."
Bush also spoke at length about North Korea, defending his record in contrast to that of the Clinton Administration, and commented on the Mark Foley Congressional page scandal.
The new study, undertaken by Iraqi physicians who interviewed 12,801 residents from late May to early July and overseen by epidemiologists at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, estimates that as many as 655,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the U.S.-led invasion in March of 2003 and that roughly ninety percent of the deaths were directly related to violence, primarily victims of gunfire.
The survey is an update to a prior study compiled by the same group, and many of the same researchers, which estimated that around 100,000 more Iraqis had died in the first 18 months after the invasion than would have died otherwise. Aside from the size of the estimate, which was much higher than other estimates, that study also drew criticism due to its timing – weeks before the US presidential election in November of 2004 – which one of the lead researchers admitted was deliberate.
A military spokesman, Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros, wouldn't comment directly on the study, according to the published reports, but said that the Defense Department "always regrets the loss of any innocent life in Iraq or anywhere else," adding that the "coalition takes enormous precautions to prevent civilian deaths and injuries."
"No, I don't consider it a credible report, neither does General Casey and neither do Iraqi officials," said Bush.
The President wouldn't provide a figure for overall fatalities in Iraq to counter the study but conceded that "a lot of innocent people have lost their life."
Bush added that he was "amazed that this is a society which so wants to be free that they're willing to – you know, that there's a level of violence that they – that they tolerate, and it's now time for the Iraqi government to work hard to bring security in neighborhoods so people can feel – can feel, you know, at peace."
"No question it's violent, but this report is one – they put it out before it was pretty well – the methodology was pretty well discredited," said Bush.
On North Korea and Foley
The conference became contentious, at times, as reporters pressed Bush to admit fault in his own dealings with North Korea, which has insisted on one-on-one talks rather than the U.S.-preferred multilateral negotiations. President Bush defended his record, in part by suggesting that the previous administration's attempts to hold direct talks with North Korea "didn't work."
"It didn't work in the past," said Bush. "I learned a lesson from that."
"You have a better diplomatic hand with others sending the message," Bush added.
Earlier today, Republican Senator John McCain paid visits to multiple network news shows, where he directed blame at the Clinton Administration for its "carrots and no sticks" dealings with the communist regime.
Regarding the Foley scandal, Bush slammed the former congressman's "disgusting behavior," but defended House Speaker Dennis Hastert as "very credible" – even in the face of polls that show many Republicans and Democrats believe he should resign for attempting to engage in a "cover up" – and said he appreciated the "strong declaration of his desire to get to the bottom of it."
"I mean, this is – you know, this is disgusting behavior when a – you know, a member of Congress betrays the trust of a – of the Congress and, you know, a family that sent a young page up to serve in the Congress," said Bush.
The president added that "we want to make sure we understand what Republicans knew and what Democrats knew in order to find the facts."
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