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Bush to Laud Troops That Stormed Baghdad

Bush to Laud Troops That Stormed Baghdad

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush is saluting troops that stormed Baghdad and ousted Saddam Hussein's regime, a day after he visited an Army hospital to pin the Purple Heart on soldiers wounded in the war on terrorism.

The president was to fly on Friday to Fort Stewart, Ga., home of the 3rd Infantry Division, which has suffered more casualties than any other American military division in Iraq.

"The president will personally express his gratitude to the troops of the 3rd Infantry for the sacrifices that they have made in defending freedom in Afghanistan and, more recently, Iraq," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Thursday. "The 3rd Infantry led the coalition offenses to liberate the people of Iraq, and they helped to begin the work of rebuilding Iraq."

The president will present the division, which sent 16,500 troops to the Persian Gulf, with the Presidential Unit Citation, the highest award given a military unit for exceptional valor, an administration official said. More than 40 soldiers from the 3rd Infantry and affiliated units at Fort Stewart have died in the war.

On Thursday, Bush marked the second anniversary of the terrorists attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, by attending a church service and a moment of silence on the South Lawn of the White House. In the afternoon, Bush went to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to present the Purple Heart to 11 of about 30 soldiers he visited. One in a wheelchair lost a leg in the war. Another had been hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.

Because it was the first to deploy to the Persian Gulf last fall in preparation for the war, some members of the 3rd Infantry had expected to go home shortly after the fall of Baghdad in April, only to learn their tours of duty were being extended. Members of the division served between six and 11 months in Iraq. The last of its troops returned home earlier this month.

In his speech, Bush was expected to highlight progress the United States is making in Iraq and elsewhere in the war on terrorism. His remarks to thousands of troops and their families and area residents at Trent Field mark a counterpoint to criticism from Democrats, who say the Bush administration underestimated the task of securing Iraq after major military operations ceased.

Other critics cite rising violence against U.S troops, the death toll, which ticks up nearly every day and a lack of help from other nations.

Two more American soldiers were killed and seven wounded Friday in a firefight in Ramadi, the military reported. In a separate incident in Fallujah, eight Iraqi policemen were killed, apparently mistakenly, in a shootout with U.S. forces.

A total of 292 U.S. soldiers have died in the war; 154 on or since May 1 when Bush declared that major combat operations in Iraq had ended.

U.S. commitments to Iraq, the global war on terror and other missions around the world have stretched U.S. forces, and American efforts, through the United Nations, to get more countries, especially Arab nations, to help secure Iraq have not been promising. Secretary of State Colin Powell will be in Switzerland on Saturday to discuss with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the foreign ministers of Russia, China, France and Britain, a draft U.S. resolution to broaden international involvement in Iraq.

After his speech to the troops, Bush travels to Mississippi to attend a fund-raiser for Haley Barbour, who is challenging Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove to lead the state. If he wins, Barbour, who was Republican national chairman from 1993 to 1997, would become only the second Republican elected governor of Mississippi since Reconstruction. Vice President Dick Cheney traveled to Biloxi, Miss., on June 9 to help raise $150,000 for Barbour's candidacy.

Later in the day, Bush was to be in Houston to help raise an estimated $1 million for the Power Center. Set up in an abandoned Kmart store, the one-stop community development center houses an array of social services, a medical clinic, private Christian school, hair salon and a branch of Houston Community College. This is the 10th anniversary of the center, which was envisioned by the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, a longtime friend of the president's who gave the benediction at Bush's inauguration.

The president and first lady Laura Bush were to spend the weekend at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland.

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

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