U.S. President George Bush appealed to the American people for patience in what he calls the difficult and dangerous work in Iraq. "Our mission in Iraq is clear. We are hunting down the terrorists. We are helping Iraqis build a free nation that is an ally in the war on terror. We are advancing freedom in the broader Middle East," the president said.
President Bush again rejected calls for a deadline for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. "Setting an artificial timetable would send the wrong message to the Iraqis who need to know that America will not leave before the job is done," he said. "It would send the wrong message to our troops who need to know that we are serious about completing the mission they are risking their lives to achieve. And it would send the wrong message to the enemy who would know that all they have to do is to wait us out. We will stay in Iraq as long as we are needed and not a day longer."
President Bush made the remarks in a live, televised speech -- delivered at one of the country's largest military bases -- in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Close to 10,000 of the U.S. troops serving in Iraq are from that base.
President Bush told the assembled forces and their families his greatest responsibility, as president is to protect the American people. He also said Iraq is a central battlefield in the global war against terror. "The lesson of this experience is clear: The terrorists can kill the innocent but they cannot stop the advance of freedom," the president said. "The only way our enemies can succeed is if we forget the lessons of September 11, if we abandon the Iraqi people to men like Zarqawi, and if we yield the future of the Middle East to men like Bin Laden. For the sake of our nation's security, this will not happen on my watch."
The speech marked the first anniversary of the U.S. transfer of sovereignty to Iraq. It comes amid continuing violence there, and at a time of declining popularity for Mr. Bush.
Recent public opinion polls show a majority of Americans are not happy with President Bush's handling of the Iraq war. But a majority also say they believe U.S. troops should stay in Iraq until the country is stabilized. Many members of the opposition Democratic Party, and several Republicans, are questioning the administration's handling of Iraq.