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Defending invasion of Iraq, Bush acknowledges data flaws

Says White House changing system to avert new errors

WASHINGTON -- President Bush said yesterday that he bore the responsibility for invading Iraq based in part on faulty weapons intelligence, taking on the issue in his most direct and personal terms in the 1,000-plus days since the war's first shots.

''It is true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong," Bush said. ''As president, I'm responsible for the decision to go into Iraq."

The president's mea culpa was accompanied by a robust defense of the divisive war.

''Saddam was a threat -- and the American people and the world is better off because he is no longer in power," Bush told his audience at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a nonpartisan forum for the study of world affairs. He has made the same declaration on other occasions.

Democrats were not moved by Bush's speech, the last of four designed to boost his credibility on the war and bolster the public's backing for it.

''There was no reason for America to go to war when we did, the way we did, and for the false reasons we were given," said Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

Bush expressed few qualms about the failure to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He said foreign intelligence agencies, including several for governments who didn't back his decision to invade, also believed before the war that Saddam Hussein possessed them. And he said his administration has begun making changes to the US intelligence apparatus to head off future errors.

The president also contended that the Iraqi president had intended to restart weapons programs.

As in the past, Bush acknowledged no regrets about launching the war despite the problems with his initial justification. He revisited a long list of other previously cited reasons, including Iraqi violations of a no-fly zone in its airspace, Hussein's invasion of Kuwait a decade earlier, and Iraq's defiance of United Nations resolutions.

''My decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision," the president said to polite applause.

Bush has repeatedly noted that the decision to go to war was his responsibility. And he has acknowledged for more than a year that most of the intelligence behind the claims of Hussein's weapons programs turned out to be faulty. But he has never linked the two so clearly and so personally.

On the eve of parliamentary elections in Iraq, Bush's speech was meant to wrap up an aggressive push against war critics with an overarching explanation, nearly three years later, of why he went into Iraq and why he believes US troops must remain there.

Bush predicted a higher turnout than in earlier balloting of Iraq's minority Sunni Arabs in today's voting, which will establish Iraq's first permanent democratically elected government. The Sunnis provide the backbone of the insurgency and largely shunned the elections last Jan. 30 for an interim Parliament. Their participation was higher in the October election to adopt the constitution.

But the president also said that Americans shouldn't hope for violence to wane, and shouldn't even expect to know results before early next month.

''We can . . . expect that the elections will be followed by days of uncertainty," he said.

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