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Bush Visits War Wounded; Declines War Victory

Bush Visits War Wounded; Declines War Victory

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BETHESDA, Md. (AP) -- President Bush said Friday he doesn't know whether Saddam Hussein is dead or alive but "I know he's no longer in power."

Even so, Bush declined to declare victory in the war in Iraq.

"I want to hear our commanders say we have achieved the clear objectives that we have set out. That's when we will say this is over," Bush told reporters after visiting wounded servicemen and women in two military hospitals.

Bush also said he did not have any new information on the whereabouts of American POWs in Iraq. "I pray they are alive, because if they are, we'll find them," he said.

With wife Laura by his side, Bush spoke with reporters at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, a suburb of Washington, after a bedside visit with troops he had sent to war and who had been wounded or injured. Earlier, Bush paid a similar visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in northwest Washington.

He said that Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S.-led forces in the Persian Gulf, would make the final call on when the war was over.

"The war will end when Tommy Franks says we have achieved our objectives," Bush said.

Bush said the most touching moment of his visit was when he watched two soldiers -- one from Mexico, the other from the Philippines -- being sworn in as U.S. citizens.

"It was a very profound moment," he said. "We've had a historic week."

"I don't think I'll ever forget, and I'm sure a lot of other people will never forget, the statue of Saddam Hussein falling in Baghdad," Bush said.

He said he was also moved by "seeing the jubilation on the faces of ordinary Iraqis as they realized that the grip of fear that had them by the throat had been released, the first signs of freedom."

Bush visited 40 soldiers at Walter Reed and honored a dozen with Purple Hearts, the military award for wounded service members. At Bethesda, he visited 33 patients, awarded four Purple Hearts and stood witness as the two servicemen became citizens.

The president said the U.S. objective in Iraq "is to rid the Iraqi people of any vestiges of Saddam Hussein and his regime so we can not only free the people, but clear that country of weapons of mass destruction."

Bush also took a jab at critics -- including retired generals -- who had sniped at the war plan after U.S. forces met stiffer-than-expected resistance in southern Iraq on the way to Baghdad.

"The wonderful thing about free speech and a lot of TV stations is you get a lot of opinions. Some of them are right and some of them were really wrong," he said.

After the hospital stops, Bush was flying to the Camp David presidential retreat in the Maryland mountains, where he has spent every weekend since the war started March 19.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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