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Bush: Coalition forces 'moving closer to victory'

President salutes role of Coast Guard in war, security

Hundreds of Coast Guard members listen as President Bush outlines progress in the war in Iraq.
Hundreds of Coast Guard members listen as President Bush outlines progress in the war in Iraq.

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PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Sounding a confident note, President Bush said coalition forces are "moving closer to victory" in Iraq, but warned that the "dying regime" of Saddam Hussein and its sympathizers might try to "bring terror to our shores."

In a speech delivered Monday at the port of Philadelphia, the president also made a pledge to the Iraqi people, whom he described as oppressed by Saddam.

"We're coming with a mighty force to end the reign of your oppressors," Bush said. "We are coming to bring you food and medicine and a better life. And we are coming and we will not stop. We will not relent until your country is free."

Bush also saluted the role of the Coast Guard both in homeland security and in the war in Iraq.

"You shield your fellow Americans from the danger of this world and America is grateful," Bush told the 700 to 1,000 Coast Guard officers and enlisted personnel gathered at the port.

With Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge alongside, the president hailed the Coast Guard's stepped-up efforts to protect America's ports and passenger ships as part of Operation Liberty Shield -- a plan designed to increase security in the United States, the official said.

The initiative was launched the day before the start of war with Iraq. Democrats, however, have been critical of the president's homeland security efforts, describing them as inadequate, and Monday's event generated a fresh round of criticism.

Bush also talked about the Coast Guard's role in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Coast Guard is helping watch for threats to U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf, and assisted in securing the port at Umm Qasr in southern Iraq.

The president outlined what he described progress in the war.

"In 11 days coalition forces have taken control of most of western and southern Iraq," Bush said. "In 11 days we've seized key bridges, opened a northern front, achieved -- nearly achieved complete air superiority and are delivering tons of humanitarian aid."

He said the Iraqi oil fields were secured and added that coalition forces have taken control of Iraqi missile launch areas that had threatened neighboring countries.

"Many dangers lie ahead, but day by day we are moving closer to Baghdad. Day by day, we are moving closer to victory," Bush said.

In a roughly $75 billion emergency budget request to help pay for war with Iraq sent to Congress last week, the president asked for approximately $4 billion for homeland security, about $500 million of which is intended to aid the Coast Guard, which last month moved from the Department of Transportation to the newly created Department of Homeland Security.

Many Democrats say the president has not devoted enough resources to homeland security and dismissed Monday's event as a photo opportunity. A press release from Sen. Ernest Hollings, the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, criticized what it called the administration's "long delayed and woefully inadequate commitment to port security funding."

Monday's visit to the Keystone State, a swing state he lost to former Vice President Al Gore by 4 percentage points in 2000, is Bush's 19th since becoming president.

The commander-in-chief had almost daily events last week in an attempt to rally support for the war with Iraq. He spent the weekend out of public view at Camp David, where he got an intelligence briefing from CIA Director George Tenet and met with the rest of his war council by video conference.

An administration official said the president will be "visible" again this week, but is likely to have some events focusing on his priorities on the home front.

Key parts of Bush's domestic agenda have hit snags in the Republican-controlled but narrowly divided Senate.

Last week, the Senate voted to cut the president's $726 billion tax cut proposal in half. His plan to allow oil drilling in the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge and several judicial nominees, including Miguel Estrada, have stalled.

Senate Republicans may scale back Bush's faith-based initiative, a top priority, to get it through the Senate.

-- CNN White House Correspondent Dana Bash contributed to this report.

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