A banner proclaiming "mission accomplished" on the aircraft carrier where President George W. Bush declared an end to major combat in Iraq came back to haunt him as the death toll rises.
Bush's attempt to explain the banner at a press conference Tuesday only heightened the controversy, with the White House attempting to dig itself out.
"What (the president) said was that it was put up by the Navy, by people on board the ship and that was correct," his spokesman Scott McClellan said Wednesday.
The White House said on October 29, 2003 that it had helped with the production of a 'Mission Accomplished' banner as a backdrop for President George W. Bush's speech onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln to declare combat operations over in Iraq. This file photo shows Bush delivering a speech to crew aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, as the carrier steamed toward San Diego, California on May 1, 2003. (Larry Downing/Reuters)
"It was an idea that was suggested by those on the ship as a way to honor the sailors and crew on board the USS Lincoln for accomplishing their mission."
He acknowledged however: "The Navy asked us to take care of the production of the banner."
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, asked by reporters about the incident, called it "one of the most significant embarrassments of the entire Iraq experience so far.
"We've lost more lives since (Bush) declared victory than we lost prior to the time we declared victory. And this latest fabrication is yet another illustration of their (the Republican administration's) unwillingness to except reality."
The administration "said that the Navy called for it, and that was a fabrication because they then later acknowledged that it was the White House who created the banner," said Daschle.
At a news conference Tuesday, Bush remarked that the "Mission Accomplished" sign "of course, was put up by the members of the USS Abraham Lincoln, saying that their mission was accomplished. I know it was attributed some how to some ingenious advance man from my staff -- they weren't that ingenious, by the way."
The remarks drew some questions about the term "mission accomplished," which at the time was interpreted in some quarters as closing the entire war in Iraq which started in March and brought the fall of Saddam Hussein in April.
Asked if Bush had misled people by appearing in front of the banner, McClellan said "the Navy put it up and it was the Navy at the -- asked us to take care of the production of the banner. And we said that yesterday."
"Our advance staff works closely with people on all events that the president is involved in," he noted.
Asked if Bush had disavowed the idea that the mission was accomplished at that time, McClellan said: "The mission for the sailors and crew on board the ship was accomplished. There are some continuing objectives we have on the security front, on the reconstruction front, on the political front."
© 2003 AFP