Bush Defends Military Buildup in Iraq
Wednesday, July 4, 2007; 5:36 PM
MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- President Bush defended his Iraq war policy in a patriotic Fourth of July talk, saying that while he honors the sacrifice of U.S. troops, now is not the time to bring them home.
Bush said victory in Iraq will require "more patience, more courage and more sacrifice."
"If we were to quit Iraq before the job is done, the terrorists we are fighting would not declare victory and lay down their arms. They would follow us here," Bush said at the West Virginia Air National Guard.
A small anti-war demonstration was under way on the other side of the state in Charleston. But the friendly audience here cheered the toppling of Saddam Hussein as well as the president's decision in January to send 28,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq to tamp down the violence and encourage the Iraqis to reach political agreements among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.
The war, in its fifth year, has claimed the lives of more than 3,580 U.S. military men and women. The offensive in Baghdad and areas to the north and south has boosted American casualties, although the number of bombings and shootings has fallen in the city in recent days.
"It's a tough fight, but I wouldn't have asked those troops to go into harm's way if the fight was not essential to the security of the United States of America," Bush said during a half-hour speech that echoed off the walls of a cavernous aircraft maintenance hangar.
In Baghdad, the administration was trumpeting a ceremony in which 588 U.S. troops marked the holiday by re-enlisting Wednesday, and 161 soldiers raised their right hands to recite an oath making them American citizens.
However, difficulties continue in Iraq. Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds said Wednesday that they have not been able to agree to a draft bill to regulate the country's oil industry _ something U.S. officials hope will rally Sunni support for the government and reduce backing for insurgents. The oil bill is a top concern of Iraq's Sunni minority, which is centered in regions of the country with little proven reserves and fears that Shiites and Kurds in the oil-rich south and north will monopolize profits from the industry.
It was the fourth Independence Day Bush has spent in West Virginia.
He thanked the servicemen and women serving abroad and their families, including children at the event who recited the Pledge of Allegiance with him.
He read from a 1777 newspaper article about an Independence Day celebration in Philadelphia where people fired artillery, toasted democracy and watched fireworks that illuminated the sky. Bush compared the citizen-soldiers of the Continental Army who traded pitchforks for muskets to the guardsmen and other military personnel fighting against terrorists today.
"We're still celebrating, and rightly so," Bush said.
About 2,000 people, including members of the 167th Airlift Wing and their families were invited to the event.
Bush singled out Master Sgt. Richard Howland of the 167th who has deployed abroad seven times since the Sept. 11 attacks and has volunteered to go to Baghdad for an eighth deployment. He also mentioned Staff Sgts. Brad Runkles and Derek Brown, childhood friends in Martinsburg who both earned Purple Hearts.
"In 2004, they were driving together in the lead gun truck of a convoy in Iraq when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb," Bush said. "Brad and Derek made it out, but they suffered burns on their hands and faces. They recovered from their wounds, and in May of last year, they both re-enlisted."
After the speech, Bush returned to the White House to watch fireworks and celebrate his 61st birthday on Friday with friends and members of his family, including his twin daughters and his parents, former President George H.W. Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush.
Associated Press Writers Dena Potter in Martinsburg, W.Va. and Lawrence Messina in Charleston, W.Va., contributed to this report.