ALI AL SALEM AIR BASE, Kuwait – First lady Laura Bush told hundreds of U.S. troops Thursday that the American people stand by them in the Iraq war and the security situation in the country was improving due to their efforts.
"We are seeing signs of progress as thousands of Iraqis are stepping up to work with coalition soldiers," Mrs. Bush told about 700 members of the different services of the U.S. military who were either coming from the war-torn country or heading there.
"Iraqis are providing intelligence and information on al-Qaida and other violent groups in their neighborhoods and bringing security and stability to their communities," she said.
She added that local tribes who were fighting Americans a year ago were now cooperating with them and joining the Iraqi political process.
Civilian deaths from suicide bombings and sectarian Sunni-Shiite violence in Iraq have dropped in recent months. Some of Iraq's tribal chiefs and former insurgents have also joined American forces against al-Qaida.
The troops greeted Mrs. Bush with applause when she entered the air-conditioned terminal at the base. "I am the one who should be applauding you for what you've done," said the first lady.
"I'm here to tell you that the American people stand with our troops," she said. "No matter what you might read in the newspapers, people do appreciate the gift of freedom."
The first lady has been on a tour in the Middle East mainly aimed at raising awareness over breast cancer. After her speech in Kuwait, she flew to Jordan where she visited a cancer ward at an Amman hospital and talked to patients.
"When I was told that I was going to sit with Laura Bush, I couldn't believe I'll get to meet the woman I used to see on TV," said 10-year-old cancer patient Fadi Haddad.
Mrs. Bush also held talks with Jordan's ruler, King Abdullah II, and launched a breast cancer screening clinic at a medical facility, called King Hussein Cancer Center. It is named for Abdullah's father, King Hussein, who died of cancer in 1999.
The first lady said the U.S. Agency for International Development would give $225,000 to the center for breast cancer screening.