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Bush Thanks US Soldiers Just Back from Iraq - 2003-09-12

As President Bush Friday rallied U.S. troops just returned from Iraq, some opinion polls showed weakening public support for the president's handling of Iraq policy. The president stressed that the troops have helped make the United States safer from terrorist attack. President Bush traveled to an army base in the state of Georgia to award a presidential citation to members of the 3rd Infantry Division which led the push to capture Baghdad.

"Following that day of liberation, 3rd I.D. soldiers have helped the Iraqi people to recover from years of oppression, to begin the work of building a free Iraq," he said.

The occupation of Iraq has continued to bring near-daily casualties for U.S. troops. The total number of soldiers killed since the president declared an end to major combat operations in May is now higher than the number of deaths recorded during the fight itself.

The 3rd Infantry Division has taken the highest number of U.S. casualties in Iraq, and Mr. Bush Friday remembered those who gave their lives for what he calls "a just cause."

"You remember them as comrades and friends," said president Bush. "This nation will remember them for their unselfish courage, for their sacrifice in a time of danger to America. We honor their memory and pray for God's comfort on their family and loved ones."

Mr. Bush is under increasing domestic pressure to lay out his vision for a post-war Iraq. In a nationwide address Sunday discussing that effort, he asked Congress for $87 billion for Iraq.

Before that speech, public opinion polls showed 54 percent of Americans believed the president did not have a good plan for Iraq. Since Sunday's speech, that number has risen to nearly 60 percent.

President Bush still enjoys relatively high approval ratings for fighting terrorism and he is continuing to stress the link between terrorism and Iraq.

At Fort Stewart Friday, he again called Iraq the central front in the war on terror, vowing to win what he calls "an essential victory."

"The terrorists have a strategic goal," he said. "They want America to leave Iraq before our work is done. You see, they believe their attacks on our people and on innocent people will shake the will of the United States and the civilized world. They believe America will run from a challenge. They don't know us very well."

A day after the second anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Mr. Bush again traced the fight against terrorism back to the violence of that day and his resolve to punish those responsible.

"America saw the face of a new adversary, an enemy that plots in secret, an enemy that rejects the rules of war, an enemy that rejoices in the murder of the innocent," he said. "We made a pledge that day, and we have kept it. We are bringing the guilty to justice. We are taking the fight to the enemy."

Following his stop at the army base, Mr. Bush travels to the state of Mississippi to raise money for a Republican gubernatorial candidate and on to Texas to raise funds for a community center before spending the weekend at the presidential retreat at Camp David.