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Bush Claims Iraq 'Is More Secure'

Bush Claims Iraq 'Is More Secure'

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CRAWFORD, Texas (AP) -- 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 at those who sacrifice." The tally of soldiers who have died in action there over the last 100 days reached 56 Thursday night. 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.

Reviewing developments in Iraq, Bush said, "We've made good progress. Iraq is more secure."

He cited the reopening of 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." Bush said Americans have "got to understand I will not forget the lessons of Sept. 11," when America was hit with its worst ever terrorist attack.

The president also would not say whether he had an estimate on how many more soldiers would die. Nor did he answer a question on future costs of the American presence in Iraq.

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."

Bush stood in the driveway of his ranch home facing reporters with Cheney, Rumsfeld, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

On a hot and hazy day, his dog Spot did laps around Bush and his team, her tongue hanging out as she panted.

Bush said he and Cheney had gone fishing Friday morning. But he discovered, "Fish like cooler weather better than hot weather. Probably the press corps feels the same way."

The president met with his national security team to discuss efforts to remold the military into a more mobile, responsive force to deal more effectively with world trouble spots.

Secretary of State Colin Powell talked Thursday about the need for a more mobile military after returning to Washington from the Bush ranch.

"We have to be nimble, flexible, call audibles as the situation changes," he said at a Washington news conference, using the football term for changing plans at the last minute.

Powell said the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq may want to "stand back a little" and rely more on local forces to maintain security.

"Iraqis have started to create security forces that will protect installations, so that you don't need a coalition military organization protecting that installation," Powell said.

But Powell said the U.S. military would take steps necessary to protect themselves and respond to attacks. "The terrorists need to know we will not be deterred."

"We intend to not stay any longer than we have to, but we will stay long enough to make sure that we allow the Iraqi people," he said, "to put in place a representative form of government."

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice on Thursday likened Iraq's halting steps toward self-government to black Americans' struggle for civil rights. Rice, who has been staying at the Bush ranch with the president and first lady much of the week, urged black journalists at a meeting in Dallas to reject arguments that some people are incapable of democracy.

"We've heard that argument before, and we, more than any, as a people, should be ready to reject it," Rice, who is black, told about 1,200 people at the National Association of Black Journalists convention. "The view was wrong in 1963 in Birmingham, and it is wrong in 2003 in Baghdad and in the rest of the Middle East."

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

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