updated 2/21/2004 2:08:17 PM ET 2004-02-21T19:08:17

President Bush on Saturday defended his decision to go to war in Iraq and his administration’s postwar efforts to bring democracy to that country against Democratic criticism.

The president’s remarks in his weekly radio address marked the second time this week he has emphasized his leadership on the war on terror, with Iraq cited as the chief example. The address reprised a speech he gave earlier in the week during a hastily arranged appearance at an Army base in Louisiana.

Bush on Saturday said his administration, along with lawmakers in Congress and the U.N. Security Council, “saw a threat. All of us knew Saddam Hussein’s history.”

Bush’s political advisers see national security as one of the president’s key advantage in his re-election effort to a second term this fall.

Bush cited al-Qaida-linked operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian blamed for a series of devastating car bombs that U.S. officials say were aimed at fomenting civil war in Iraq, as the reason Iraq is “the central front in our war on terror” — a once frequently used term that Bush and his aides had generally done away with until recently.

“I will not relent until the terrorist threat to America is removed,” Bush said.

Democrats have questioned Bush’s Vietnam-era stint in the Texas Air National Guard — how he managed to get in and whether he fulfilled his obligations — as a way of contrasting Bush with the combat-decorated record of Sen. John Kerry, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Democrats also have pointed to U.S. weapons inspectors’ failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a criticism of Bush’s allegations that the former regime possessed them — his main rationale for war. Former chief weapons inspector David Kay said recently that he had concluded Iraq had no such weapons.

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