The U.S. military death toll in Iraq officially reached two thousand on Tuesday, with the announcement of the death of a soldier who was injured last week. The figure includes 427 troops whose deaths were not directly related to combat operations. Speaking shortly before the announcement, President Bush said the American sacrifice in Iraq has been worthwhile, and more sacrifice will be needed before the war against terrorism is finally won.
His name was George T. Alexander Junior. He was a 34-year-old staff sergeant from Texas, President Bush's home state. Sergeant Alexander died on Saturday at a military hospital not far from his home, of injuries he received five days earlier in the Iraqi town of Samarra. Like many of the other U.S. casualties in Iraq, his death was caused by a roadside bomb that detonated near his vehicle.
In a previously scheduled speech to military spouses on Tuesday, President Bush did not speak directly about reaching the two thousand deaths milestone in Iraq. But he spoke about the importance of defeating terrorism and the sacrifices required to do so.
"A time of war is a time for sacrifice. And the greatest burden falls on our military families. We've lost some of our nation's finest men and women in the war on terror. Each of these men and women left grieving families, and left loved ones back home. Each of these patriots left a legacy that allowed generations of their fellow Americans to enjoy the blessings of liberty. Each loss of life is heartbreaking. And the best way to honor the sacrifice of our fallen troops is to complete the mission, and lay the foundation of peace by spreading freedom," Mr. Bush says.
President Bush urged his listeners not to underestimate the difficulties that lie ahead. But he said there is no question that the United States and its allies will defeat the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, and terrorists around the world. He spoke of a multi-faceted strategy that includes military victory, but also political reform in moderate Arab nations and an effort to provide economic opportunities to disaffected Muslim youths.
And the president told the military families more sacrifice will be required.
"The sacrifices made by you and your loved ones in uniform are always on our minds and in our prayers. All of you also understand that sacrifice is essential to winning war. And this war will require more sacrifice, more time and more resolve," Mr. Bush says.
President Bush told the military families that by helping Iraqis, Afghans and others move to democracy, U.S. forces are making freedom in America more secure. And he urged Americans not to be discouraged by the continuing terrorist attacks in Iraq. He said that by targeting innocent Iraqis, the insurgents show they are not patriots or resistance fighters.
The president also said the time has come for all responsible Muslim leaders to denounce the terrorist ideology that he said exploits Islam for political ends. And he praised those Muslims who have fought alongside U.S. and coalition troops.
"Everywhere we have engaged the fight against extremism, Muslim allies have stood up and joined the fight, becoming partners in a vital cause. Afghan troops are in combat against Taleban remnants," Mr. Bush says. "Iraqi soldiers are sacrificing to defeat the al-Qaida in their own country. These brave citizens know the stakes -- the survival of their own liberty, the future of their own region, the justice and humanity of their own tradition. And we are proud to stand beside them."
The Defense Department reports that nearly 2800 members of Iraq's new security forces have died fighting the insurgents, some of them new recruits waiting to sign-up who were killed by suicide bombers. In addition, the department reports that 198 troops from other coalition members have been killed.
On Tuesday, President Bush repeated his vow to stick with the war on terrorism until it is won.
But in a speech in the U.S. Senate, Democratic Party senator Russ Feingold said the U.S. presence in Iraq does more harm than good.
"Right now we are making the insurgency stronger with our apparently indefinite presence in Iraq, and our failure to articulate a timetable for military withdrawal," Senator Feingold says. "We also know our commitment of resources - money, troops, time - to Iraq is detracting from our ability to focus on our most pressing national security goals, and stretching our military budget to the breaking point."
Senator Feingold has called for a withdrawal of U.S. troops by the end of the year.
Senior generals say that would be a bad idea with the insurgency still strong, Iraq's new forces still developing and the country's political process at a delicate stage. The generals say they may be able to recommend some U.S. troop withdrawals before the end of next year, if Iraq's political process moves forward, if country's new security forces continue to develop and if the insurgency eases.