Bush mourns death of 3,000th US soldier in Iraq

 
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Crawford (Texas), Jan 1: President George W Bush mourned the death of the 3,000th US soldier in Iraq, the White House said, but cautioned war-weary Americans that no quick end was in sight to the conflict.

Bush has been under pressure to change course in Iraq amid widespread public and political discontent. He is expected to unveil his new strategy, which could include sending more U.S. troops into battle, early next month.

''The president believes that every life is precious and grieves for each one that is lost,'' said White House spokesman Scott Stanzel. ''He will ensure their sacrifice was not made in vain.'' The Web site, www.icasualties.org, yesterday listed the death of Spec. Dustin Donica on December 28 as previously unreported and said his death, together with that of a soldier killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad on Saturday, brought the toll to 3,000.

In addition to reaching the grim milestone, December is the deadliest month for US forces in the past two years, with 111 dead, according to the site. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have died in the almost 4-year-old war.

Bush, who is spending a weeklong holiday break at his Texas ranch, has been considering a range of options that includes a short-term increase in forces, but he has rejected the idea of a timetable for withdrawing the 134,000 troops now in Iraq.

''In the New Year, we will remain on the offensive against the enemies of freedom, advance the security of our country, and work toward a free and unified Iraq,'' Bush said in his annual New Year's Day message to the country.

Bush has shown little desire to make dramatic policy changes even after voters in November gave control of the incoming Congress to Democrats, which was widely seen as a reflection of dissatisfaction with the Republican president's handling of the war.

Even with the execution of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, Bush warned that violence in Iraq would not end, and was quickly proven correct when suspected insurgents loyal to Saddam set off car bombs killing more than 70 on Saturday.

''Many difficult choices and further sacrifices lie ahead,'' Bush said after the hanging. ''Yet the safety and security of the American people require that we not relent in ensuring that Iraq's young democracy continues to progress.'' The Bush administration has argued that establishing a free Iraq that can govern and sustain itself is critical to winning a broader war on terrorism and preventing attacks from being conducted on American soil.

''We will be fighting violent jihadists for peace and security of the civilized world for years to come,'' Stanzel said.

REUTERS

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