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Bush, Congress Respond with Grim Messages to US Military Death Toll in Iraq

Some members of Congress reacted Monday to the news that the U.S. military death toll in Iraq has reached 4,000, with majority Democrats mixing messages of respect for the sacrifices of the military, with more criticism of President Bush. VOA's Dan Robinson reports, the president also commented on the somber occasion.

Speaking for Democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the 4,000-death mark a grim reminder of the enormous human cost of war in Iraq for the best and bravest in the military and their families.

Pelosi also referred to the thousands of injured in Iraq, many permanently, adding that Americans are asking, "how much longer U.S. forces must continue to sacrifice for the sake of an Iraqi government that is unwilling or unable to secure its own future."

Missouri Democrat and House Armed Services Committee chairman Ike Skelton said, "my heart is broken 4,000 times over", adding that "when the history of the Middle East is written, I hope it will have been worth it."

There was no formal statement issued by the offices of either the House or Senate Republican leaderships. The House Republican leader John Boehner was traveling overseas.

Historical perspective was also on the mind of President Bush who appeared Monday at the State Department with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Offering deepest sympathies to the families of civilian and military personnel killed in Iraq, the president referred to what he hopes will be history's positive assessment of the Iraq war and his decision to wage it.

"One day people will look back at this moment in history and say thank God there were courageous people willing to serve because they laid the foundations for peace for generations to come [and] I have vowed in the past and I will vow so long as I am president to make sure that those lives were not lost in vain," he said.

Earlier, White House press secretary Dana Perino said President Bush bears the responsibility for the decisions he made to go to war in Iraq and grieves for the families of those killed, but also bears the responsibility to continue focusing on success.

The two Democrats vying for their party's presidential nomination marked the 4,000 death toll Monday, both pledging that, if elected, they will begin to bring the bulk of troops home.

Referring to those killed and wounded, Senator Hillary Clinton repeated her pledge to bring U.S. troops home as quickly and responsibly as possible.

In a written statement, Senator Barack Obama called every death a tragedy, and added that Iraqi government leaders should be pushed to take responsibility for their future.

By late Monday, Republican presidential nominee, Senator John McCain did not make any formal statement on the 4,000 U.S. death figure, but he has been consistent in rejecting any quick U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

When lawmakers return to work next week, they will be looking ahead to testimony on Capitol Hill on April 8 and 9 by U.S. Iraq commander General David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker.

The last time both appeared before House and Senate committees, in September of last year, they urged patience saying that more time was needed to assess the impact of the 30,000-strong U.S. troop surge ordered by President Bush last year.

This time, there is speculation that Petraeus may recommend that the gradual draw down of U.S. forces, which would leave troop levels at roughly pre-surge levels in the final months of President Bush's final term in office, should be paused at some point later this year.

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