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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Foreign fighters who seek to install a Taliban-style government in Iraq are coordinating with Saddam Hussein loyalists to launch deadly attacks on U.S. troops, President Bush asserted Tuesday as he mourned rising casualties.
Bush has previously accused the two groups of seeking to intimidate Americans in Iraq. But as explosions in Baghdad disrupted his Veterans Day tribute from afar, he accused them of conspiring with each other in the wave of attacks.
"Over time, Baath Party and Fedayeen fighters and other Saddam loyalists have organized to attack our forces, to terrorize international aid workers and to murder innocent Iraqis," Bush told a supportive audience at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
"Foreign jihadists have arrived across Iraq's borders in small groups with the goal of installing a Taliban-like regime," he said. Also in the mix, Bush maintained, are militants with al-Qaida and the affiliated Ansar al-Islam -- two groups "always eager to join in the killing and to seek revenge after their defeat in Afghanistan."
"Saddam loyalists and foreign terrorists may have different long-term goals, but they share a near-term strategy: to terrorize Iraqis and to intimidate America and our allies," Bush said. "Recent reporting suggests that despite their differences, these killers are working together to spread chaos and terror and fear."
While Bush was speaking, a series of strong explosions were heard in central Baghdad. Earlier Tuesday, an explosion on a road frequently used by British troops killed six civilians in southern Iraq. And another occurred as U.S. soldiers were escorting Iraqi prisoners from jail to a court, injuring two Iraqi policeman and two prisoners.
Meanwhile, the top U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, was in Washington Tuesday for, previously unscheduled, consultations with Bush administration officials, a White House spokesman said.
Bush cast the mounting deaths and injuries in unusually personal terms. Generally, the president has said that he grieves for all soldiers lost in all wars. But on Veterans Day, Bush expressed grief, especially, for those lost in the Iraq conflict.
"We have laid to rest young men and women who died in distant lands," Bush said after visiting Arlington National Cemetery and laying a wreath there. "For their families, this is a terrible sorrow, and we pray for their comfort. For the nation, there is a feeling of loss, and we remember and we remember and we honor every loss."
But he offered a broad defense for the war in Iraq and for continuing clashes more than six months after he declared major combat over.
"What our country brings to Iraq is a chance for freedom and democracy," Bush said. "Our men and women are fighting terrorist enemies thousands of miles away in the heart and center of their power so that we do not face those enemies in the heart of America."
At his first appearance, speaking in a drizzle at Arlington National Cemetery, Bush cited the sacrifice of U.S. troops who died fighting for freedom in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
"The loss is terrible," Bush said. "It is borne especially by the families left behind, but in their hurt and in their loneliness, I want these families to know: Your loved ones served in a good and just cause."
As Bush arrived at the cemetery, a 21-gun salute shook the cemetery and left smoke hanging over rows of tombstones. Bush helped set a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns on the 11th day of the 11th month of the 85th anniversary of the signing of an armistice on Nov. 11, 1918 that ended World War I.
On Veterans Day just one year ago, he threatened to commit the "full force and might" of U.S. military against Saddam Hussein unless the Iraqi dictator quickly disarmed.
This year, the administration finds itself empty-handed in the search for weapons of mass destruction. And daily attacks against remaining troops have pushed the U.S. death toll to nearly 400, with more than half of those since Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1.
Also Tuesday, Bush was signing the Fallen Patriots Tax Relief Act, which doubles the tax-free death gratuity payment given to the families of fallen soldiers from $6,000 to $12,000; and the National Cemetery Expansion Act to help establish new national cemeteries for deceased veterans.
There are an estimated 19 million veterans and about 1,500 die each day. With an aging World War II generation, the government estimates the number dying to peak at 687,000 in 2006.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)