President Bush says U.S. troops in Iraq have made progress in the 100 days since he declared major fighting there over.
Mr. Bush said Iraqi civilians are more secure and their economy is improving since his May 1 declaration of the end of major combat operations. He pointed out that improvements made in Iraqi infrastructure and the start of a political process represent "a major shift" in the region.
"We've been there 100 days," he said. "We have made a lot of progress in 100 days. I am pleased with the progress that we have made, but fully recognize we have a lot more work to do."
Those accomplishments continue to come at a cost for U.S. troops, with another soldier killed Thursday night. That brings the death toll to 56 in the 100 days since the president made his now-famous announcement on the deck of an aircraft carrier.
Mr. Bush said the nation grieves for those who have sacrificed their lives in Iraq in what he calls a vital part of the war on terror.
"Our heartfelt sympathies and appreciation go to the loved ones of any soldier who is willing to defend the security of the United States. And that is what they are doing in Iraq. It is very important for people to understand that this is part of the war on terror. That we are dealing with terrorists today," the president said.
Preventing the former Iraqi regime from helping terrorists gain weapons of mass destruction was the president's biggest justification for invading Iraq. So far, none of those chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons have been found.
There have also been questions about the president's pre-war case against Saddam Hussein as one of his allegations about efforts to buy uranium in Africa turned out to be based on forged documents.
Those developments have opened the president to criticism from Congressional Democrats, some of whom are running for president next year.
Mr. Bush Friday dismissed that criticism as "pure politics."
"The American people know that we laid out the facts, based the decision on sound intelligence," he said. "And they also know we have only been there for 100 days, and we are making progress. A free Iraq is an integral part of the war on terror. As far as all this political noise, it's going to get worse as time goes on, and I fully understand that. That's just the nature of democracy. Sometimes, pure politics enters into the rhetoric."
Mr. Bush spoke at his Texas ranch following a meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He would not respond to an assessment from the commander of coalition forces in Iraq that U.S. troops will be there at least two years. Instead, Mr. Bush said he will "do what's necessary to win the war on terror."