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Bush Confronts Costs of War

Bush Confronts Costs of War

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush is confronting the costs of the Iraq war in lives and dollars, grieving for civilians and soldiers killed or captured while offering lawmakers his first official estimate of how much taxpayer money will be required to prosecute the campaign.

The White House has for months refused to provide a price tag for war in Iraq, saying too many variables were at play. That stance forced Congress to vote last week on budget resolutions that included Bush's proposed tax cuts, without war costs factored in.

Bush planned to provide the estimate to congressional leaders Monday, ensuring that lawmakers' discussion of war spending will take place amid a surge of public support for American troops. Aides said the figure will be between $70 billion and $80 billion, a sum that would cover actual war costs, beefed-up homeland security, humanitarian aid and reconstruction.

Before the first bomb fell on Iraq last week, the president had tried to brace Americans for casualties, and the death toll ticked up over the weekend.

"I pray for God's comfort and God's healing powers, to anybody, coalition force, American, Brit, anybody who loses a life in this, in our efforts to make the world more peaceful and more free," Bush said Sunday.

"I thank them for the sacrifice they make, and we pray with them," Bush told reporters Sunday as he returned to the White House from a weekend stay at Camp David. On Monday, an aide said that Bush had not watched videotape of U.S. prisoners of war in Iraq.

The mother of one captured soldier offered a heart-wrenching plea to Bush: "Please do something for my son," Anecita Hudson said of Army Spc. Joseph Hudson, 23, of Alamogordo, N.M.

Asked about her appeal, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "The nation's heart and the president's heart goes out to the families of those who serve, of those who have lost their lives and of those who are now missing or captured."

"Every resource of the United States military is dedicated toward winning this and protecting those who serve," he said.

Bush's schedule Monday included a morning meeting with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, lunch with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a session with his economic team before a meeting with congressional budget experts.

Bush will visit the military's Central Command headquarters in Florida Wednesday, looking to rally armed forces personnel and the American public as the war in Iraq enters a dangerous phase.

Central Command headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa is responsible for U.S. military operations in 25 countries, from the Horn of Africa and the Persian Gulf to Central Asia. Its commander, Gen. Tommy Franks, is running the war against Iraq from a forward headquarters in Qatar.

This week's trip will mark Bush's first domestic travel since Feb. 20 -- an unusual absence from the road for a president who has aggressively traveled to promote his agenda and to campaign for fellow Republicans.

"This is just the beginning of a tough fight," the president said Sunday. He gave no indication he thinks Saddam Hussein will cede power in Iraq, saying, "He had his chance to go into exile."

Nor did Bush offer any sign Iraq might surrender soon.

Asked directly whether he thought the Iraqi leadership would collapse or surrender, he replied: "All I know is we've got a game plan, a strategy to free the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein and rid his country of weapons of mass destruction, and we're on plan."

Bush spoke to reporters shortly after an Arab satellite station aired footage from Iraqi television of interviews with what the station identified as captured American prisoners. The tape also showed bodies in uniform in an Iraqi morgue, who the station said were Americans.

Bush said he did not have all the details of what he called a potential capture but demanded that the Americans be treated well.

"We expect them to be treated humanely, just like we'll treat any prisoners of theirs that we capture humanely. If not, the people who mistreat the prisoners will be treated as war criminals," he said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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