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Work of U.S. forces crucial to democracy in Iraq, Bush says

FORT HOOD, Texas—President Bush on Tuesday marked the second anniversary of Baghdad's fall by thanking soldiers who played a major role in toppling Saddam Hussein and telling them their work in Iraq is far from over.

Bush delivered a pep talk in which he effusively thanked a sea of olive green- and khaki-clad of soldiers at Fort Hood—the Army's largest active-duty armored post—for helping coalition forces race across more than 350 miles of Iraqi desert to reach Baghdad within 21 days.

"The toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad will be recorded alongside the fall of the Berlin Wall as one of the great moments of liberty," Bush told an estimated 25,000 soldiers. "And eight months later, soldiers of the Ivy Division brought the real Saddam Hussein to justice."

Saddam is gone from power and faces trial, but the U.S. military mission in Iraq isn't finished, the president said. Coalition forces are in a new phase of the campaign: protecting Iraq from an aggressive insurgency, giving time for Iraqi security forces to get their footing and giving the country's fledgling government a chance to take shape.

The work of American forces in Iraq is crucial to ensuring that democracy succeeds there and spreads throughout the Middle East, Bush said.

"The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a crushing defeat to the forces of tyranny and terror, and a watershed event in the global democratic revolution," he said.

Iraqis are taking more responsibility for their protection, the president noted. More than 150,000 Iraqi security personnel have been trained and equipped and, for the first time, Iraqi military, police and security forces outnumber U.S. forces in Iraq, he said.

Still, that hasn't lessened the need for American troops. Bush observed that many of Fort Hood's soldiers either had just returned from Iraq or were preparing to go—some for second tours—this fall.

"Whether you're coming or going, you are making an enormous difference for the security of our nation and for the peace of the world," he said.

Fort Hood, the home of the 4th Infantry and 1st Cavalry divisions, has been involved in the brunt of the action in Iraq. More than half the base's personnel have been to Iraq. The 4th Infantry led the capture of Saddam. Soldiers from the fort occupied territory north of Tikrit, Saddam's hometown, and have seen some of the fiercest fighting of the war. About 146 soldiers from Fort Hood have died in Iraq, a base spokesman said.

The president offered no timetable as to when U.S. service members will leave Iraq permanently other than to say it will be when their objectives are completed.

"And then our troops will come home with the honor they have earned," he said.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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