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Iraq Transition

Bush: We will complete the mission

President vows to stay in Iraq in address to Idaho National Guard


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• Interactive: Sectarian divide


National Guard
George W. Bush

NAMPA, Idaho (CNN) -- Americans appreciate "the service and the sacrifice of the military families" during the ongoing war in Iraq, President Bush told Idaho National Guard members and their families Wednesday, as he insisted again that a withdrawal from the strife-torn country would be a mistake.

"We mourn the loss of every life. We pray for their loved ones," Bush said. "These brave men and women gave their lives for a cause that is just and necessary for the safety of the country, and now we will honor their sacrifice by completing the mission."

Bush also was scheduled to meet with the families of 19 U.S. soldiers killed in action in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

Wednesday's address in Idaho, a state Bush won with 69 percent of the vote in 2004, is the second the president has delivered this week in a bid to boost sagging support for the Iraq conflict. The war is now nearly two-and-a-half years old.

Anti-war protesters led by Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in Baghdad last year, have kept a vigil since August 6 outside the president's Texas ranch, where Bush has been vacationing. White House aides have acknowledged they underestimated the amount of attention the demonstrators would draw.

Nationwide, National Guard units are falling short of their enlistment goals for the year. As of July 31, recruiters have managed to bring in only 77 percent of the 51,000 National Guard recruits they had hoped to enlist.

As he has since June, Bush said U.S. troops will begin to leave Iraq only after they have trained sufficient Iraqi security forces to assume responsibility for security. He also praised Iraq's progress toward drafting a constitution, calling the draft submitted Monday to a transitional parliament "another important victory over the terrorists."

"The establishment of a democratic constitution will be a landmark event in the history of Iraq and the history of the Middle East," he said. "It will bring us closer to the day that Iraq is a nation that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself."

Negotiators in Baghdad are still trying to iron out differences between Sunni Arabs and the Shiite Arab and Kurdish leaders who largely drafted the latest document. Government leaders have imposed on themselves a deadline of before midnight Thursday to reach a wide-ranging consensus.

Of the 138,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, 1,700 are from the Idaho National Guard. Ten of the 1,870 Americans killed since war began ago were Idaho residents.

"The citizen soldiers of Idaho are making history," Bush said. "You're fighting to make sure our freedom, like the state of Idaho, may endure forever. Americans are grateful for your devotion to duty and your courage under fire. We'll live in freedom and peace because of your determination to prevail."

Bush said his administration was working to make call-ups "more respectful of you and your families," raising bonuses and limiting repeated mobilizations and extensions of tours of duty. And he singled out for praise the family of Tammy Pruett, an Idaho woman who has four sons serving in Iraq with the National Guard. (Full story)

Pruett's husband and another son returned from duty there last year, the president said.

"America lives in freedom because of families like the Pruetts," Bush said.

Bush's acknowledgment of military families comes as opponents of the war have rallied around Sheehan, who says she wants to meet with the president to ask what "noble cause" her son -- an Army mechanic who was killed in Baghdad -- died to achieve.

Sheehan was expected to return to Crawford on Wednesday after nearly a week in California to care for her mother, who suffered a stroke last week. Sheehan's vigil has drawn scores of supporters -- and counter-demonstrators -- to her protest site.

Bush, who met with Sheehan after her son's death in 2004, said Tuesday that Sheehan "doesn't represent the view of a lot of families I have met with."

But Celeste Zappala, whose son, Army Sgt. Sherwood Baker, also was killed in action in Baghdad last year, told CNN these families "all deserve answers."

Sheehan and Zappala are founding members of Gold Star Families for Peace, an anti-war group led by relatives of fallen troops.

Zappala said she didn't know exactly what should be done about the ongoing war but suggested, "We think the president might learn something from us if he could possibly listen to the people who didn't agree with him."

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