| Sergeant George Alexander Jr, the 2000th victim. (AFP)
Washington, Oct. 26 (Reuters): As the US military death toll in Iraq reached 2,000, President George W. Bush said today the war will require more time and sacrifice, and rejected calls for a US pullout.
“Each loss of life is heartbreaking, and the best way to honour the sacrifice of our fallen troops is to complete the mission and lay the foundation of peace by spreading freedom,” Bush said, his voice breaking with emotion as he spoke at a luncheon of military wives at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington.
His remarks came shortly before the Pentagon announced that Sergeant George Alexander Jr, 34, of Killeen, Texas, died at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas on Saturday of injuries sustained on October 17 in Samarra, Iraq, when a bomb planted by insurgents detonated near his Bradley Fighting Vehicle.
This pushed the death toll in a war that began in March 2003 to 2,000. More than 15,000 US troops have also been wounded in combat.
“This war will require more sacrifice, more time and more resolve,” Bush said amid declining public support for the war. “The terrorists are as brutal an enemy as we have ever faced.”
The US Senate paused for a moment of silence after news that the death toll had reached 2,000.
But Lieutenant Colonel Steven Boylan, a US military spokesman in Baghdad, said the 2000th death was “not a milestone.”
“It is an artificial mark on the wall set by individuals or groups with specific agendas and ulterior motives. In some cases, this could also be the creating of news where none really exists,” Boylan said.
Boylan said “the true milestones of this war are rarely covered or discussed,” including US volunteers to serve in the war and ordinary Iraqis who defied insurgents to vote for a better future.
Falling public support for the war as measured by opinion polls has been one factor pushing down Bush’s popularity, and critics have called on him to bring troops home.
Vermont Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, in a withering Senate speech, voiced impatience with Bush’s stay-the-course message and accused him of ignoring the lessons of the Vietnam War and invading Iraq without evidence to support the use of force.
He said if American officials are correct that a civil war in Iraq could result if the US pulled out prematurely, “My question to them is: when and how then do we extract ourselves from this mess'”
About 2,800 Iraqi government security troops have died in action in the war, said a US defence official.
According to the Pentagon, about 22 per cent of the US military deaths in the war have resulted from “non-hostile” circumstances, ranging from illnesses to vehicle accidents and suicides, with the rest killed in action.
Bush argued that Iraq is making progress by approving a new constitution that clears the way for elections for a new government in December, and that Iraqi troops are increasingly playing a larger role in fighting the insurgency.
In the Senate, Leahy said once a new Iraqi government is in place, Bush should consult with the US Congress on “a flexible plan that includes pulling our troops back from the densely populated areas where they are suffering the worst casualties and to bring them home.”
Bush said arguments calling for a US withdrawal from Iraq were refuted by a simple question: whether America and other nations would be more or less safe if Osama bin Laden were in control there.
Senator Robert Byrd, a Democrat, said: “As we mourn the losses that have already occurred in the war in Iraq, Americans should be mindful that all indications are that there will be many more losses to come.”