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WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush will soon declare an official end to combat in Iraq, White House officials said Friday, previewing an address that also will outline his plans to rebuild the war-torn nation and sustain the global war on terrorism.
The speech may come as early as next week when the president visits an aircraft carrier returning to San Diego from Iraq war duty, officials said.
There has been little fighting in Iraq for days and work is already under way to create an interim government. But Bush has not declared the war over.
He is awaiting word from commanding Gen. Tommy Franks that hostilities have ended. That is expected within a few days.
Bush will discuss his goals for a free Iraq and remind Americans that the conflict was part of a broader war against terrorism, said White House officials, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity.
They said Bush does not plan to declare victory, in so many words, because coalition forces have not completed key missions, including the finding of weapons of mass destruction, the creation of an interim government and confirmation that Saddam Hussein is captured or killed.
Bush will not deliver the address from the Capitol, as requested by some lawmakers, officials said. Instead, aides are considering venues at the White House or, more likely, outside Washington.
The likeliest site is the USS Abraham Lincoln, which has been at sea for nearly nine months. The White House announced Friday that Bush would travel to San Diego next Thursday for remarks aboard the ship and for an overnight stay.
Next Friday, he will leave the ship and travel to Santa Clara for another speech.
To avoid criticism that he is politicizing the war on Iraq, Bush will announce the end of combat in a speech dedicated solely to the fighting and its aftermath, officials said.
In subsequent addresses, Bush will pledge to fight against terrorism and for a stronger economy -- the twin themes of his emerging re-election campaign, officials said. He delivered that double-barreled message Thursday in Ohio, and will do so again in Santa Clara.
The USS Lincoln leave some of its support ships in California before returning to its home port in Everett, Wash.
"He will depart the ship Friday morning prior to its pulling into port," said White House press secretary Ari Fleischer. "That way the families can be reunited as quickly as possible without delay."
After his speech in Santa Clara, Bush will fly to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, where he and first lady Laura Bush will welcome Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Howard's wife.
On Saturday, Bush and Howard, a strong backer of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, will meet and answer reporters questions.
Bush is to return to the White House on Monday, May 5.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)