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Bush says 'good progress' made in Iraq, mourns losses
CRAWFORD, Texas -- President Bush claimed major progress in Iraq on Friday, but mourned the growing loss of American lives 100 days after he declared an end to major combat.
"We suffer when we lose life," the president said. "Our country is a country that grieves with those who sacrifice."
The tally of soldiers who have died in action in Iraq over the last 100 days has reached at least 55. Bush said the soldiers had been participating in a vital "part of the war on terror."
Bush spoke at his Texas ranch alongside Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld following a meeting on military strategy.
"We spent time making sure that our military is configured in such a way as to represent the modern era, which means it will be more likely that the world will be peaceful," Bush said. "A modern, strong, light, active military will make it easier to keep the peace."
Rumsfeld said he and other military leaders are reviewing whether U.S. troops are stretched thin because of the war in Iraq.
"We have found there are literally about two dozen things we can do that reduce stress on the force," Rumsfeld said, noting it takes time to provide relief troops.
"The time it takes to bring them in -- recruit them, train them, equip them -- means there's a significant lag, so it's not something one does quickly," Rumsfeld said.
Reviewing developments in Iraq, Bush said: "We've made good progress. Iraq is more secure."
He cited the reopening of Iraqi banks, improvements in Iraq's infrastructure and the stirring of democracy, which Bush said "is a major shift of system in that part of the world."
Bush would not say whether he shared the assessment of the commander of coalition forces in Iraq, Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who said Thursday that U.S. forces will remain in Iraq at least two years.
Bush would only say, "I will do what's necessary to win the war on terror." He said Americans have "got to understand I will not forget the lessons of Sept. 11."
"The best way to secure America is to get the enemy before they get us," Bush said. "And that's what's happening in Iraq and we're grateful for the sacrifices of our soldiers."
Bush said he was heartened by financial and military contributions other countries were making in Iraq, and promised to present a "well-thought-out" cost estimate to Congress.
"Congress will be able to ask legitimate questions like you're asking," Bush told reporters outside his ranch house, "and they'll be answered."
Immediately after the briefing, White House staffers released a 24-page document outlining the administration's accomplishments in Iraq called, "Results in Iraq: 100 days toward security and freedom."
The report said representative government is being established in Iraq, all universities are open, the food distribution system is functioning and a $53 million program to rehabilitate schools and clinics is under way. The report also said the elimination of Saddam Hussein's regime, "a state sponsor of terror," has helped make the world more safe.
Bush faced reporters in the driveway of his ranch home with Cheney, Rumsfeld, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The president praised efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and expressed his thanks to Germany --twice -- for its help in securing that country.
Asked about the Mideast, Bush said Israel's willingness to reroute a security barrier in Palestinian areas was an encouraging sign that "the Israelis are willing to work with us" on a point of major contention in Mideast peace talks.
Bush said he understands both the Israeli and Palestinian positions on the fence. For Israelis, he said, the barrier "is a reaction to the days when there was terror ... to the days of the intifadah." But to Palestinians, it will make it more difficult to develop "contiguous" political borders for a state, he said.