President Bush told about 600 troops from the 1st Armored Division and the 82nd Airborne Division, ”You are defending the American people from danger and we are grateful.”
“You are defeating the terrorists here in Iraq so we don’t have to face them in our own country.”
Thursday’s visit, which lasted about two-and-a-half hours, was shrouded in secrecy for fear that it may prompt terrorist attempts to kill him. Details of his visit did not emerge until he was safely on his way out of the country on Air Force One.
The troops, who had gathered in a mess hall at Baghdad International Airport, were expecting to hear from the U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of the coalition forces in Iraq, when President Bush emerged from a side door.
In addition to his message of thanks to the troops, Mr. Bush addressed the Iraqi people, telling them to “seize the moment and rebuild your great country based on human dignity and freedom.”
“The regime of Saddam Hussein is gone forever,” he said. He pledged the help of the United States and its coalition partners, saying, “we will stay until the job is done. I’m confident we will succeed.”
President Bush, wearing a gray exercise jacket with a 1st Armored Division patch, stayed to speak to the troops and help hand out their Thanksgiving meal.
The visit came amid increasing violence against U.S. and coalition forces and Iraqi people who appear to be cooperating with them. Even as the president was on his way to Iraq, insurgents fired a rocket-propelled grenade at Italy’s embassy in Baghdad, damaging the building but causing no injuries, the U.S. military said. The attack followed a suicide truck bombing of an Italian police station in Nasiriyah two weeks ago, which killed 19 Italians and eight Iraqis.
Additionally, a U.S. military convoy came under attack on the main highway west of Baghdad near the town of Abu Ghraib, according to witnesses. And an unidentified gunman killed an Iraqi police sergeant in the northern city of Mosul, said Brig. Gen. Muwaffaq Mohammed.
Since the war in Iraq began, nearly 300 U.S. soldiers have been killed in hostile action, including 183 since May 1 when President Bush declared the end to major combat.