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Bush: Saddam's Regime 'Falling Away'

Bush: Saddam's Regime 'Falling Away'

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush spoke on Saturday of Iraqi children kissing Marines and possible difficult fighting ahead as coalition forces struggled to bring order to the wreckage left by the collapse of President Saddam Hussein's government.

In his weekly radio address, Bush talked of Iraqis celebrating freedom and pledged that America will be their friend. He cautioned, however, that the fight is not over. The threat of suicide attacks remains, and looting had spread by Saturday to new areas of Baghdad.

"The conflict continues in Iraq, and our military may still face hard fighting. Yet the statues of the dictator and all the works of his terror regime are falling away," Bush said in his weekly radio address.

He taped the address Friday before visiting wounded U.S. troops and later flying to the Camp David presidential retreat for the weekend. On Saturday, the president worked out in a gym and conferred with aides over a video teleconference hookup. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice, White House chief of staff Andrew Card and CIA director George Tenet are with the president at Camp David.

At Camp David, Bush was informed that the House had approved a bill Saturday that allocates $78.5 billion for the war effort, to help ailing airline companies and for other projects pushed by lawmakers. Already passed by the Senate, the bill goes to the president to be signed into law.

Bush welcomed the event with a statement that said the legislation offers "the resources necessary to win the war and help secure enduring freedom and democracy for the Iraqi people." The president said he looks forward to working with Congress "as we make progress in the war and in providing aid" to Iraqis.

In his radio message, Bush talked of how Marines helped to free more than 100 children who, according to one report, had been jailed for refusing to join Saddam's Baath Party youth organization. The children, malnourished and wearing rags, were overjoyed to see their parents and the coalition soldiers.

According to Bush, Lt. Col. Fred Padilla, commander of the 1st Battalion 5th Marines, said: "The children just streamed out of the gates, and their parents just started to embrace us. Hundreds of kids were swarming us and kissing us."

On Friday, during a tearful tour of the two Washington-area military hospitals, Bush met with 75 wounded troops, handed out 10 Purple Hearts and watched two servicemen -- one from Mexico, the other from the Philippines -- be sworn in as U.S. citizens.

Citizenship for one of them, Lance Cpl. O.J. Santa Maria, a Filipino who lives in Daly City, Calif., was expedited as a result of an executive order Bush signed last year that allowed faster naturalization for anyone involved in military hostilities.

Suffering visibly from a shoulder wound received in Nasariyah and hooked up to a blood transfusion, Santa Maria stood, ignoring protests, for the ceremony. Halfway through, he broke down sobbing from the pain and the occasion.

"We're proud to have you as an American," Bush told him, according to press secretary Ari Fleischer. "I'll never forget this moment."

Speaking to reporters afterward, Bush said he is not ready to declare victory in Iraq nor end the fighting even with Saddam "no longer in power."

"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 said.

White House officials said there is no guarantee that Bush will ever formally declare the war over, and he certainly won't do so any time soon, in part because a premature declaration would open him to criticism if more casualties should follow.

Instead, aides said Bush could bask in a series of victories: the first meeting of potential leaders of a new Iraq, expected to be held in the next 10 days; free flow of humanitarian goods; the formation of an interim authority to govern Iraq; and the election of a new government.

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

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