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PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- President Bush, linking war in Iraq to his global anti-terrorism campaign, warned Monday that Saddam Hussein or his terrorist allies may try to strike America in retaliation for the U.S.-led fighting.
"The dying regime in Iraq may try to bring terror to our shores," the president said in a speech to several hundred Coast Guard personnel. Bush also said that terrorist networks may consider the war an opportunity to strike America.
"They are wrong," he said. "We are meeting the threats and acting to prevent the dangers."
For months Bush has sought to link Saddam's regime with al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations, despite widespread skepticism from critics who question the administration's evidence.
The national threat level was raised to code orange, the second-highest level, earlier this month, just before Bush ordered the attack on Iraq, because U.S. intelligence warned of war-related attacks in the U.S.
Wearing a U.S. Coast Guard jacket, Bush countered suggestions that U.S. forces are meeting more resistance than he had expected.
"Many dangers lie ahead, but day by day we are moving closer to Baghdad," the president said. "Day by day, we are moving closer to victory."
Democrats, aware of Bush's high approval ratings on the Iraq conflict, questioned the president's homeland security policies but not his war plans.
Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement that Bush had failed to give the Coast Guard $1 billion it sought to secure ports this year. He also said the president requested no money for a U.S. Customs program designed to secure cargo containers.
Critics followed Bush to Philadelphia. Scores of anti-war protesters greeted him as he arrived at the port of Philadelphia, their most dramatic props being replicas of oil derricks spewing blood.
Others held signs that read, "Create a U.S. peace department," "Let the rich fight the war" and "Mind your global manners."
Bush highlighted his request for more money for wartime domestic security by focusing on the accomplishments of the Coast Guard, now on its highest alert since World War II.
As part of his $74.7 billion war budget, Bush has asked lawmakers to approve about $4.2 billion for the new Department of Homeland Security and other domestic security programs.
Nearly half the $4.2 billion would be earmarked for equipment, training, and other security programs by state and local governments. The department would get $1.5 billion for its own programs.
The Coast Guard, which is now part of that new department, is playing an active role in the war in Iraq, helping secure the port at Umm Qasr. A Coast Guard cutter and helicopter escorted the British ship with the first humanitarian aid shipment into the Iraqi port.
In his address, Bush focused on the goal of liberating Iraq -- making relatively little mention of Saddam's alleged weapons of mass destruction, the initial reasoning for invading the Persian Gulf country
"Our victory will mean an end of a tyrant who rules by fear and torture," he said.
Hundreds of enlisted Coast Guard personnel and officers stood on the water's edge waiting for Bush on a cold, breezy spring day. The White House chose as a backdrop the Coast Guard cutter Tate, used mainly to aid navigation in the region by laying buoys.
Speaking to the Iraqi people, Bush said, "We are coming with a mighty force to end the reign of your oppressor. We are coming to bring food and medicine and a better life. We are coming and we will not stop and we will not relent until your country is free."
Bush received a briefing from top Coast Guard officials charged with protecting the East Coast and points beyond.
Among those in the room were Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thomas H. Collins and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, the former Pennsylvania governor.
Before leaving for Philadelphia, Bush met with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Myers' top deputy, Marine Gen. Pete Pace, and Secretary of State Colin Powell.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)