U.S. Soldier Killed in Iraq Hours After Bush Visit
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Nov 28, 8:04 AM (ET)
By Andrew Marshall
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A mortar attack on a U.S. base in Iraq killed an American soldier on Friday, hours after President Bush made a secret visit to Baghdad to spend Thanksgiving with U.S. troops fighting to end a guerrilla war.
A military spokeswoman said the soldier was killed when a mortar bomb hit the headquarters of the 101st Airborne Division in the northern city of Mosul. Since Bush declared major combat over on May 1, 185 U.S. soldiers have been killed in action.
During his lightning trip on Thursday, Bush thanked American soldiers for "sacrificing for our freedom and our peace."
He assured the Iraqi Governing Council that Washington would stay the course in Iraq while urging them to work harder to prepare for next year's handover of sovereignty.
In an elaborate plan to ensure his security, Bush slipped away from his Texas ranch on Wednesday night, arrived in Iraq on Thursday and spent two and a half hours with the troops, becoming the first U.S. president to visit the country.
He arrived back in Washington shortly after midnight on Friday.
At the heavily fortified Baghdad International Airport, Bush thanked American troops and vowed they would prevail.
"We did not charge hundreds of miles through the heart of Iraq, pay a bitter cost of casualties, defeat a ruthless dictator and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins," he said to a standing ovation.
"We will prevail. We will win because our cause is just. We will win because we will stay on the offensive."
On the heels of Bush's visit, Senator Hillary Clinton, wife of former President Bill Clinton, visited Baghdad on Friday.
With the U.S. economy improving, Iraq is emerging as perhaps the greatest threat to Bush's re-election in 2004 as American occupation troops suffer casualties almost every day.
Britain's Times newspaper hailed Bush's trip as "one of the most daring stunts in modern American history."
"Probably not since the American Civil War, when battles raged only a few miles from Washington, has the incumbent of the White House deliberately placed himself in so much danger," the newspaper's diplomatic editor wrote.
"Election raid on Baghdad," declared a front-page headline in France's Left-wing newspaper Liberation, beside a photograph of Bush carrying a platter laden with roast turkey and fruit and surrounded by U.S. troops.
"This 'Baghdad coup', primarily intended for the U.S. public, was a brilliantly conceived and executed piece of election propaganda," the newspaper said.
But opinions on the trip differed in other sections of the press, with Britain's tabloid Daily Mirror newspaper and The Independent both running a similar photograph of Bush holding a platter with the headline: "The Turkey has landed."
In Baghdad, discussions were under way on amendments to a new U.S.-backed plan to hand sovereignty back to Iraqis by July, after the country's most revered Shi'ite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said the political roadmap paid too little heed to Islam and did not include enough Iraqi involvement.
Jalal Talabani, head of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, said on Thursday he had agreed to Sistani's request that a transitional assembly due to be in place by the end of May be directly elected rather than picked by regional caucuses.
Under the U.S. plan, the assembly will choose an interim government which will take over power from the occupation administration by the start of July. A constitution will be written and elections held by the end of 2005.
But the proposed amendments would mean elections would have to be held by May 2004 -- a headache for the U.S.-led administration to organize in a country troubled by widespread lawlessness and a guerrilla insurgency.
(Additional reporting by Seb Walker in Mosul, Steve Holland in Washington, Rachel Sanderson in Rome, Mark John in Paris and Gideon Long in London)