Bush: Iraq is one victory in war on terror
ABOARD USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN (CNN) -- President Bush on Thursday praised the toppling of Saddam Hussein as "a job well done," but he warned that the battle in Iraq was but "one victory in a war on terror."
Bush, addressing the nation not from the White House but from the dramatic setting of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, announced: "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended." (Transcript)
Standing on the giant flight deck, with a banner reading "Mission Accomplished" overhead on the bridge, the commander-in-chief saluted the men and women of the U.S. military.
"Because of you, our nation is more secure. Because of you, the tyrant has fallen, and Iraq is free," was his message. "America is grateful for a job well done."
Bush arrived at the huge carrier off the California coast on a Navy plane, sitting in the co-pilot's seat. The ship will arrive in San Diego on Friday after a 10-month deployment, including service in the Iraq and Afghanistan war theaters. (Full story)
Reviewing the quick progress of the 6-week-old Operation Iraqi Freedom, Bush said it "was carried out with a combination of precision, speed and boldness the enemy did not expect -- and the world had not seen before."
"With new tactics and precision weapons, we can achieve military objectives without directing violence against civilians. No device of man can remove the tragedy from war. Yet it is a great advance when the guilty have far more to fear from war than the innocent."
The president said the United States and its allies fought to bring peace to the world.
"The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September 11th, 2001, and still goes on."
Bush said that in the 19 months since the attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, "nearly half of al Qaeda's senior operatives have been captured or killed."
Bush described al Qaeda as "wounded, but not destroyed" and said the United States would continue to hunt down members of the terrorist network.
He also said removing Saddam from power would make other nations less vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
"We have removed an ally of al Qaeda, and cut off a source of terrorist funding. And this much is certain: No terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime, because that regime is no more."
'Target of American justice'
The president warned once again that terrorists and their supporters who hope to attack the United States would become "a target of American justice."
He also promised that outlaw regimes that seek weapons of mass destruction would be confronted.
But he said that "anyone in the world, including the Arab world, who works and sacrifices for freedom has a loyal friend in the United States."
The president also saluted members of the military killed in the Iraq war, saying their "final act on this Earth was to fight a great evil and bring liberty to others."
"Every name, every life, is a loss to our military, to our nation and to the loved ones who grieve."
The president also said that for some U.S. troops "difficult work" remains to be done to ensure freedom to the people of Iraq. He said the coalition would continue to bring order to still dangerous areas; locate members of Saddam's regime and bring them to justice; find weapons of mass destruction; and help the Iraqi people rebuild their country.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, said she believes the hardest work is yet to come in securing Iraq, getting its economy going and providing a stable environment for the new government.
"I interpret this as a major statement that the coalition, in fact, will remain until the country is safe and stable, and until a government is elected and able to survive. And that's good news, I think," she said.
Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Connecticut, said the speech and the environment in which it was given "was so exciting."
"This president had a right to rejoice. But it was just a compassionate, wonderful speech," Shays said.
Victory and Geneva Conventions
Bush did not formally declare the war in Iraq to be over.
There are several reasons, highlighted by aides and scholars. For one, although major combat is over, skirmishes in Iraq continue as exemplified by deadly exchanges in the city of Fallujah between protesters and U.S. soldiers. Also, although Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled, the former Iraqi president and members of his inner circle, including his two sons, remain unaccounted for.
Scholars familiar with laws governing war say that a formal declaration of victory would complicate efforts by coalition forces to track down the former members of Saddam's regime.
"If we say the war is over, it makes it more difficult to pursue these individuals," said Anthony Clark Arend, professor of government and foreign service at Georgetown University. He has written a book on international law and the use of force.
The Geneva Conventions also call for the release and repatriation "without delay" of prisoners of war at the close of hostilities.
"Generally, that means you repatriate them to the existing government," Arend said. "Well, there's no place to repatriate them to."
Pentagon officials said last week there were about 7,000 Iraqi prisoners of war but added that hundreds of them have been released.
-- CNN White House Correspondent Dana Bash, Pentagon Producer Mike Mount and CNN.com Producer Sean Loughlin contributed to this report.