WASHINGTON, March 19, 2008 – President Bush reflected on the triumphs and tragedies of the Iraq war today, five years after the U.S. ousted Saddam Hussein and roughly one year after a troop surge helped to tamp down violence there.

In the midst of what he referred to as an “understandable debate” over the merits of war and the prospects of U.S. victory, Bush expressed confidence in Operation Iraqi Freedom during a speech at the Pentagon.

“The answers are clear to me,” he said. “Removing Saddam Hussein from power was the right decision, and this is a fight America can and must win.”

Since tens of thousands of U.S. troops poured across Iraq’s border five years ago, 12 million Iraqis have defied terrorism and cast votes in free Iraqi elections. But meanwhile, progress has been undermined by brutal al Qaeda attacks against innocent civilians, the president said.

“We have watched in horror as al Qaeda beheaded innocent captives and sent suicide bombers to blow up mosques and markets,” he said. “Defeating this enemy in Iraq will make it less likely we’ll face this enemy here at home.”

Bush conceded the war has been costly — both in terms of its price tag and human casualties. As of January, Operation Iraqi Freedom had cost $416 billion, a Pentagon spokesman said. To date, 3,988 U.S. servicemembers have died in Iraq, and 29,395 have been wounded, according to the latest Defense Department statistics.

“No one would argue that this war has not come at a high cost in lives and treasure,” the president said. “But those costs are necessary when we consider the cost of a strategic victory for our enemies in Iraq.”

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