Bush says US deaths in Iraq were not in vain

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WACO, Texas, Nov 12 (Reuters) President George W Bush marked Veterans Day by attending a memorial service for four US soldiers killed in Iraq, where he told their families the troops had not died in vain.

Bush, who is spending the weekend at his Crawford, Texas ranch, visited an American Legion post in nearby Waco to attend the ceremony where two Army soldiers and two Marines were honored with anthems and tributes to their heroism.

At the emotional service where some family members were crying, Bush praised the valor of the soldiers and expressed empathy for the ''aching hearts'' of those they left behind.

''In their sorrow, these families need to know, and families all across our nation of the fallen, need to know that your loved ones served a cause that is good and just and noble,'' Bush said. ''And as their commander-in-chief, I'm making this promise: their sacrifice will not be vain.'' The unpopularity of the Iraq war, now in its fifth year, has helped push Bush's approval ratings to the lowest levels of his presidency. Frustration with the war is a major theme in the 2008 presidential election campaign to pick his successor.

This year has been the deadliest for US troops in Iraq, with more than 850 killed in 2007, and more than 3,850 US troops killed since the US-led invasion in 2003.

With both civilian deaths and US military casualties down in recent months, Bush has painted an upbeat picture of Iraq, attributing the reduction in violence to a US troop buildup he ordered at the beginning of the year.

However, questions remain over whether the lull in violence is temporary or the start of a more lasting improvement in security. Bush has acknowledged that the Iraqi government had fallen short on efforts to bridge the sectarian divide.

Before Bush spoke at the memorial, a White House official said the president planned to criticize congressional Democrats for failing to pass the annual spending bill to fund veterans' services.

Trying to gain advantage in the political fight over who cares most about veterans, Bush has repeatedly called on Democrats to send him that funding bill by Veterans Day, the holiday when the nation pays tribute to Americans who have served in the wars.

But Bush did not make reference to the budget dispute in his remarks. White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Bush ''significantly shortened his remarks'' because the ceremony, which lasted more than an hour, had gone on a long time already.

Bush, who normally visits Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day, was in Texas to host talks on Friday and Saturday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Reuters SBA VP0620

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