WASHINGTON – Even as a series of strong explosions were heard near U.S. headquarters in central Baghdad, President Bush on Tuesday thanked American soldiers for their sacrifices and praised Iraqis for helping contribute to peace in their country.
"Today's military is acting in the finest traditions of the veterans who came before them," the president said in a Veterans Day (search) speech at Washington think tank, the Heritage Foundation (search). "They have given all that we have asked of them. They are showing bravery in the face of ruthless enemies and compassion to people in great need. Our men and women in uniform are warriors and they are liberators, strong and kind and decent. By their courage, they keep us safe. By their honor, they make us proud."
"Iraqis are a proud people and they want their national independence. And they can see the difference between those who are attacking their country and those who are helping to build it. Our coalition is training new police; the terrorists are trying to kill them," he added.
As part of his continuing effort to maintain support for the war against terrorism, Bush praises U.S. troops and announces progress in the rebuilding of that country nearly every day. But Tuesday's Veterans Day holiday gave Bush several opportunities to deny that he rushed to war and to link foreign terrorists with violence in Iraq.
"Our men and women are fighting to help democracy and peace and justice rise in a troubled and violent region. Our men and women are fighting terrorists enemies thousands of miles away in the heart and center of their power, so that we do not face those enemies in the heart of America," he said.
The president's comments came as U.S. administrator in Iraq L. Paul Bremer (search) was suddenly called back to Washington. The last week has been among the most violent in Iraq since the end of the war, with dozens of Americans and Iraqis injured or killed by terror attacks, primarily rocket-propelled grenades and car bombs.
On Monday, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice acknowledged an upsurge in violence, especially in the so-called "Sunni Triangle" encompassing Baghdad, Fallujah and Tikrit, but said increasing Iraqi control of their own security will greatly improve the situation.
On Tuesday, Pentagon officials said the number of Iraqi security forces is now the largest of any country force in Iraq, with 131,000 Iraqis working in police, the upstart army and other security details.
Recent reports show that Saddam Hussein loyalists and foreign terrorists -- including members of Ansar Islam and Al Qaeda -- are concentrating on a small area of Iraq, primarily where U.S. forces are stationed. They have attacked in Baghdad and five of Iraq's 18 provinces covering a 200-square-mile radius about 93 percent of the time since Saddam's regime fell, Bush said.
"Saddam loyalists and foreign terrorists may have different long-term goals, but they share a near-term strategy: to terrorize Iraqis and to intimidate America and our allies," Bush said. "Recent reporting suggests that despite their differences, these killers are working together to spread chaos and terror and fear."
The numbers indicate a coordinated plan of attack. In response, the coalition forces have conducted 1,500 raids against terrorists, have captured or killed more than 1,000 of them and have seized 4,500 mortar rounds, 1,600 rocket-propelled grenades and thousands of other weapons and military equipment.
Bremer visited the White House on Tuesday and was returning Wednesday for "consultations," a White House official said, adding that Bremer ordinarily meets with Rice and her staff as well as others working on postwar Iraq issues. He also often meets with Bush.
Senior defense officials said no one should "read anything into Ambassador Bremer coming to Washington for the rest of the week" and that "there is nothing that is an emergency about this trip... Bremer travels back to Washington frequently."
Still, a new Annenberg poll shows Americans are evenly divided about whether the war in Iraq was worth fighting. Polling that took place between Nov. 1-9, a period in which two U.S. helicopters were shot down in Iraq, showed 48 percent saying the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over, while 49 percent said it was not. A Fox News-Opinion Dynamics poll from Oct. 28-29 showed that 58 percent of 900 likely voters said going to war in Iraq was the right thing to do, while 35 percent said it was wrong.
Earlier on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month -- Bush placed a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Ceremony and noted the moment marks the time when the guns of World War I fell silent 85 years ago. He said many thousands are following their duty at great risk and their service was indeed worth it.
"Young Americans have died in liberating Iraq and Afghanistan. They've died in securing freedom in those countries. The loss is terrible and it's borne especially by the families left behind. But in their hurt and in their loneliness I want the families to know, your loved ones served in a good and just cause," he said.
Bush's speech at the cemetery also marked one year since the president threatened to "commit the full force and might" of the U.S. military against Iraq. He said then that the danger from that country "is clear and it's multiplied a thousand times over by the possibility of chemical or biological or nuclear attack."
Bush made no mention of chemical and biological weapons that have yet to be located in either appearance on Tuesday.
Bush did sign the Fallen Patriots Tax Relief Act, which doubles the tax-free death gratuity payment given to the families of fallen soldiers from $6,000 to $12,000; and the National Cemetery Expansion Act to help establish new national cemeteries for deceased veterans.
About 1,500 of the nation's estimated 19 million veterans die each day and the Veterans Affairs Department estimates that number will increase to a yearly high of 687,000 in 2006 as the United States loses more and more of its World War II veterans.
Fox News' Wendell Goler, Jim Angle, Bret Baier, Ian McCaleb and the Associated Press contributed to this report.