WASHINGTON – President Bush all but declared victory in the war against Iraq Tuesday, saying Saddam Hussein's regime has ceased to exist.
Just a month ago, Iraq was a prison to its people, a haven for terrorists and an arsenal of weapons that endangered the world, Bush said. That has all changed, he said.
"In Iraq, the regime of Saddam Hussein is no more," Bush said in a Rose Garden speech. "Today the world is safer. The terrorists have lost an ally. The Iraqi people are regaining control of their own destiny."
"These are good days in the history of freedom," the president said.
Bush was speaking to an audience of small business owners, and the main portion of his speech was aimed at pushing the $726 billion package of tax cuts and tax law changes he says is needed to grow the economy.
House Republicans agreed to a $550 billion tax cut, but Senate Democrats and some moderate Republicans only approved a $350 billion package. They say that with the cost of war in Iraq, even with a smaller hike, a projected $400 billion will increase by $50 billion a year for the next couple of years.
Bush has said he won't declare victory in Iraq until military commanders tell him they've achieved all the objectives of the war. They are focused now on finding and then destroying the chemical and biological weapons arsenal the United States insists is there and was used as the main justification for military action.
"We'll help destroy the former regime's weapons of mass destruction and we'll help the Iraqi people establish a just and representative government, which respects human rights and adheres to the rule of law," Bush said.
Aides say the president's three conditions for declaring victory include finding Saddam, either captured or dead, destroying the weapons of mass destruction and fully accounting for U.S. prisoners of war.
The president said a clear message has been sent around the world and to Iraq that the U.S. and its coalition allies will defend themselves and will finish the job.
Pentagon officials said Monday that the major combat portion of that job had ended. That was the day when the last stronghold -- Saddam's hometown of Tikrit -- fell to coalition forces.
"Our victory in Iraq is certain but it is not complete. Centralized power of the dictator is ended, yet in parts of Iraq desperate and dangerous elements remain. Forces of our coalition will engage these enemies, until they surrender or until they're destroyed," he said.
As war planners set to restructure and enlarge the American force on the ground, humanitarian relief is also starting to pour in. In addition, U.S. commanders led the opening of talks with the nation's religious and political groups looking to set up a new government in post-Saddam Iraq.
"These tasks will take effort, and these tasks will take time, but I have faith in the Iraqi people and I believe that a free Iraq can be an example of reform and progress to all the Middle East," Bush said.
"As one phase of this operation begins to wind down, another phase begins," Secretary of State Colin Powell said in a separate appearance.
Fox News' Wendell Goler and the Associated Press contributed to this report.