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Bush to declare end of combat in Iraq

President will address nation Thursday

From Suzanne Malveaux
CNN Washington Bureau

President Bush will address the nation Thursday from an aircraft carrier.
President Bush will address the nation Thursday from an aircraft carrier.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush will announce the end of major combat in Iraq in a speech to be delivered from the deck of a U.S. aircraft carrier Thursday night, the White House said.

"He will address the nation just as he did at the beginning of the combat," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said Wednesday. "He will address it now as the major combat operations have ended to mark the importance of this moment."

Bush will make his declaration from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, now en route to San Diego, California, after nine months at sea. The address is scheduled for 9 p.m. ET.

The address will not be a victory speech, and Fleischer said U.S. forces still face dangers from "pockets of resistance."

"It is not the legal end of hostilities," Fleischer said. That distinction is key because a formal declaration of victory carries with it certain obligations on the part of the victor, including the release of prisoners of war, according to the Geneva Conventions.

The Lincoln will be more than 100 miles off the California coast at the time Bush speaks, Fleischer said, and Bush will reach it via a Navy aircraft. (Full story)

Bush is scheduled to spend the night on the aircraft carrier, which is based in Everett, Washington, but is stopping in San Diego first.

Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of U.S. forces in the region, told Bush Tuesday that the need for extensive combat operations has passed, Fleischer said. Bush had said previously that he would await word from Franks before declaring combat to be over.

Bush is expected to announce that the focus of U.S. troops in Iraq will be on providing security and rebuilding the country, which a U.S.-led coalition invaded in March. The regime of Saddam Hussein toppled, but the former Iraqi president and members of his leadership, including two sons, are unaccounted for.

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