MARTINSBURG, W.Va. – President Bush on Wednesday defended the U.S. military build up in Iraq in a patriotic Fourth of July speech, saying victory will require "more patience, more courage and more sacrifice."
"However difficult the fight is in Iraq, we must win it," Bush said, telling members of the West Virginia Air National Guard that he admires the valor of America's fighting men and women but that now is no time to leave.
"We must succeed for our own sake. For the security of our citizens we must support our troops. We must support the Iraqi government and we must defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq."
He defended the U.S.-led invasion in Iraq to a friendly audience that cheered the toppling of Saddam Hussein as well as Bush's decision in January to send 28,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq to try to tamp down on the violence and encourage the Iraqis to reach political agreements among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.
The offensive in Baghdad and areas to the north and south has boosted American casualties, although the number of bombings and shootings has fallen in the city in recent days.
"It's a tough fight, but I wouldn't have asked those troops to go into harm's way if the fight was not essential to the security of the United States of America," Bush said of the more than 4-year-old war that has claimed the lives of over 3,580 men and women of the U.S. military.
In Baghdad, the administration was highlighting a ceremony where more than 500 troops, who have fought in Iraq, re-enlisted in the U.S. armed forces and a hundred of their comrades raised their right hands to recite an oath making them citizens of the United States.
Difficulties remain, however; Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds said Wednesday that they have not been able to agree to a draft bill to regulate the country's oil industry — something U.S. officials hope will rally Sunni support for the government and reduce backing for insurgents. The oil bill is a top concern of Iraq's Sunni minority, which is centered in regions of the country with little proven reserves and fears that Shiites and Kurds in the oil-rich south and north will monopolize profits from the industry.
Bush thanked the servicemen and women serving abroad and their families, including children at the event who recited the Pledge of Allegiance with him. He read from a 1777 newspaper article about an Independence Day celebration in Philadelphia where people fired artillery, toasted democracy and watched fireworks that illuminated the sky.
"We're still celebrating, and rightly so," Bush said.
About 2,000 people, including members of the 167th Airlift Wing and their families were invited to the event.
On the other side of the state, West Virginia Patriots for Peace, who are critical of the Bush administration and its handling of the war, scheduled a protest against the president's invitation-only appearance at the 167th Airlift Wing.
"The Fourth is not going to go by with this guy coming in here and no voices coming back at him," said the Rev. Jim Lewis, a member of the group and a veteran activist.
"I was told it was a closed affair, that it was for the families and a few invited guests. They've iced us out," Lewis said. "The public needs to know that this is certainly an isolated event."
After the speech, Bush was returning to the White House to watch fireworks and celebrate his 61st birthday on Friday.
"I told her to fire up the grill," Bush said he told first lady Laura Bush, who did not attend.
Last year that same Fourth of July celebration was interrupted when North Korea test-fired a series of missiles. Bush was at the White House with family and friends to watch fireworks when Pyongyang test-fired six missiles, including a long-range missile capable of reaching U.S. soil. That one failed after being airborne for 35 seconds, and the shorter-range missiles fell into the Sea of Japan.