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4,000 Iraq war deaths not 'in vain,' Bush vows

WASHINGTON - President Bush declared yesterday that the lives of 4,000 U.S. military men and women who have died in Iraq would not be "lost in vain." The White House signaled anew that additional troops would not be pulled out soon.

Annabel Grote of Rydal (right) and Mavra Lano of Wyncote protest the Iraq war at an intersection in Elkins Park.
Annabel Grote of Rydal (right) and Mavra Lano of Wyncote protest the Iraq war at an intersection in Elkins Park.Read moreELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Inquirer Staff Photographer

WASHINGTON - President Bush declared yesterday that the lives of 4,000 U.S. military men and women who have died in Iraq would not be "lost in vain." The White House signaled anew that additional troops would not be pulled out soon.

A roadside bomb in Baghdad killed four U.S. soldiers Sunday night, pushing the death toll to 4,000.

That number pales in comparison with the number of deaths in other lengthy U.S. wars, but it is much higher than many Americans, including Bush, ever expected after the U.S. invasion of Iraq five years ago.

Bush proclaimed the end of major combat operations in Iraq in May 2003. Almost all the U.S. deaths there have occurred since then.

"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,' " Bush said after a State Department briefing about long-term diplomacy efforts.

"I have vowed in the past, and I will vow so long as I'm president, to make sure that those lives were not lost in vain - that, in fact, there is an outcome that will merit the sacrifice," Bush said.

Also yesterday, the FBI said authorities had recovered the remains of two U.S. contractors who were kidnapped in Iraq more than a year ago.

Ronald Withrow of Roaring Springs, Texas, and John Roy Young of Kansas City, Mo., were among six Western contractors abducted in separate incidents - Withrow in January 2007 and Young in November 2006.

Their disappearances received new attention earlier this month when the severed fingers of several men were sent to the U.S. military in Iraq. Withrow, who worked for JPI Worldwide, was among those whose severed fingers were sent; Young, who worked for Crescent Security Group, was not.

The news of 4,000 U.S. troops dead in Iraq came a week after the war entered its sixth year. Almost 30,000 U.S. service members have been wounded in Iraq.

Tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed.

Early in April, Bush is expected to announce the next steps in the war, and he is likely to embrace a pause in troop withdrawals beyond those due to end in July.

Democrats in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail continue to push for a faster end to war. But Bush still has the upper hand for 10 months.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said: "Americans are asking how much longer must our troops continue to sacrifice for the sake of an Iraqi government that is unwilling or unable to secure its own future." The cost to the U.S. reputation is immense, she said, and the threat to the economy at home is unacceptable.

The White House called the milestone a sober moment. Bush said people were praying for the families of those killed, whether they were among the first or the most recent casualties.

The number killed in Iraq is far less than in other modern American wars. In Vietnam, the United States lost more than 58,000 troops, passing the 4,000 mark in 1966 as deaths rose quickly along with escalating U.S. involvement.

Milestones such as new death tolls often go unremarked by Bush. But he chose on this occasion to note the losses, albeit briefly and without taking questions from reporters.

"Our strategy going forward will be aimed at making sure that we achieve victory and, therefore, America becomes more secure," he said. Just last week, Bush said the high cost in lives and treasure was necessary to halt the spread of terrorism and keep Iraq out of chaos.

The White House said Bush was likely to embrace an expected recommendation from his top commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, for a halt to troop withdrawals in July.

During the pause, Petraeus and other senior commanders would make yet another assessment of conditions in Iraq, possibly in September, before recommending any specific troop reductions for the final months of 2008.

The United States has about 158,000 troops in Iraq. The number is expected to drop to 140,000 by summer.

Bush met for two hours yesterday with his national security team. Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, took part by video link.

Both Democratic presidential contenders made note of the 4,000 deaths.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said at the University of Pennsylvania yesterday that she would honor the fallen by ending the war and bringing home U.S. troops "as quickly and responsibly as possible."

And Sen. Barack Obama said in a statement: "It is past time to end this war that should never have been waged by bringing our troops home, and finally pushing Iraq's leaders to take responsibility for their future."

The Republican presidential nominee-to-be, Sen. John McCain, fresh off his eighth Iraq visit, said yesterday of the U.S. strategy in Iraq: "We're succeeding. I don't care what anybody says. I've seen the facts on the ground."

"I don't think I would change the strategy now unless Gen. Petraeus recommended it," the Arizona senator said in California.

The Associated Press count of 4,000 deaths is based on U.S. military reports and includes eight civilians who worked for the Pentagon.

Last year, U.S. military deaths spiked as troops sought to regain control of Baghdad and surrounding areas.

The death toll has seesawed since, with 2007 ending as the deadliest year for U.S. troops, at 901 deaths, but losses lower in recent months.

U.S. Blames Iranian-Backed Factions for Rocket Attacks

The U.S. military

blamed Iranian-backed Shiite militia factions yesterday for a spate of rocket attacks Sunday that struck Baghdad's Green Zone and surrounding areas.

Rear Adm. Gregory Smith

said the rockets were Iranian-made and supplied by the Quds Force, an elite unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guards.

The U.S. military

has accused Iran of arming and funding Shiite extremists to fight American forces in Iraq. Iran denies the allegation.

U.S. Embassy

spokesman Philip Reeker said that two government employees, an American and a Jordanian, were seriously wounded and that six other people required medical attention after Sunday's attacks.

Local hospital

and police officials said at least 12 Iraqis were killed and 30 wounded in rocket or mortar blasts that apparently fell short after being aimed at the Green Zone from scattered areas.

Also yesterday

, Iraqi authorities clamped an indefinite nighttime curfew on the Shiite oil port of Basra as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki traveled to the volatile southern city and ordered a new security plan in a bid to clamp down on violence between rival militia factions.

- Associated Press

See "Killed in the Line

of Duty," with the names and photos of nearly 4,000 U.S. personnel who have died in the Iraq war, through last week's fifth anniversary: