President Bush says Saddam Hussein is no longer in power, but it is too early to declare victory in Iraq. He spoke after a visit with wounded American soldiers, sailors and marines now getting treatment at two Washington area military hospitals.
They were the president's first comments since the fall of Baghdad. His tone was familiar a mix of optimism and caution.
He said he still does not know what happened to Saddam Hussein, although it is clear the man who ruled Iraq for decades has lost his hold on the country.
"I don't know the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein," he said. "I don't know if he is dead or alive. I do know he is no longer in power."
All the same, Mr. Bush said the war is not over until the last vestiges of the regime are removed and the country is disarmed.
"This war will end when our commanders in the field tell me the objective has been achieved," he said.
But the president left no doubt he was heartened by the images that have emerged this week from Iraq most notably the sight of jubilant crowds in Baghdad downing a massive statue of Saddam Hussein.
"I don't think I will ever forget - and I am sure a lot of other people will never forget - the statue of Saddam Hussein falling in Baghdad," he said. "And then seeing the jubilation on the faces of ordinary Iraqis as they realized the grip of fear that had them by the throat had been released."
He spoke at Bethesda Naval Hospital, one of two military medical facilities in the Washington area now treating troops wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom. There too, the president saw powerful images the faces of young men and women in hospital beds and wheelchairs. He said some told him they wanted to heal quickly so they could return to their units in Iraq.
"It's a brave lot here in Bethesda, people who are willing to sacrifice for something greater than themselves," he said. "I feel lucky as an American to be a part of a country where citizens are willing to do that."
President Bush handed out medals to some of those wounded in battle. He also was on official witness when two of the injured took the oath of American citizenship.
"One man from Mexico. One man from the Philippines," he said. "People who had gone overseas. People who risked their lives for peace and security and freedom."
Mr. Bush spent time with more than 70 injured soldiers, sailors and marines. All the visits took place in private, in keeping with the wishes of the wounded and their families.