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WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush, accusing Saddam Hussein's regime of committing scores of atrocities against the Iraqi people and prisoners of war, said those responsible will be "hunted relentless and judged severely."
Speaking to war veterans in the East Room of the White House, the president said U.S.-led forces were closing in on Baghdad, loosening Saddam's grip on power with every advance.
"The regime that once terrorized all of Iraq now controls a small portion of that country," he said.
Bush accused Saddam's forces of murdering Iraqis who refuse to fight coalition forces, brutalizing and executing prisoners of war and opening fire under the flag of surrender.
"Against this enemy, we will accept no outcome except complete victory," he said.
The president and his surrogates are intensifying their criticism of Saddam's regime as they seek to rally public opinion behind a war that some now say may last longer than expected.
"Every Iraqi atrocity has confirmed the justice and urgency of our cause," he said.
Bush spoke shortly before he was to depart for Camp David, where he will conduct a video conference with his war council Saturday. He spent Wednesday night at the mountaintop retreat for a meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and was at Camp David for the first weekend of the war.
Earlier on Friday, the president telephoned Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who co-sponsored a failed U.N. war resolution with the United States and Britain.
Speaking of efforts by the U.S. military to deliver food to Iraqi civilians, spare innocents from harm and treat wounded Iraqi soldiers, Bush told veterans: "The contrast could not be greater between the honorable conduct of our forces and the criminal acts of the enemy."
Bush awoke to front-page stories in The Washington Post and The New York Times quoting the Army's senior ground commander in Iraq as saying the effort to oust Saddam may last longer than predicted.
"The enemy we're fighting is different from the one we'd war-game against," said Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace.
The remarks were met with private recriminations from Bush and top aides at the White House, all of whom have sought to assure Americans that the war is going well despite casualties and stiffer-than-expected resistance on Iraqi battlefields.
"I think the point here, as you've heard it repeatedly from administration officials, that we cannot predict how long it will go," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
He had trouble squaring those remarks with Vice President Dick Cheney's prediction earlier this month that war would be "relatively quick - weeks rather than months. "
First, he noted that Cheney also had said there is always the possibility of complications that can't anticipated
"And obviously one week into the battle, I don't know that anybody can draw any conclusions about duration to judge whether the vice president is precise or not, is accurate or not," Fleischer said, adding that he was not suggesting that Bush's war plan had run into unanticipated complications.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)