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Bush Sees Iraq Progress

President Bush claimed major progress in Iraq on Friday but mourned the growing loss of American lives, 100 days after he declared an end to major combat.

"We suffer when we lose life," the president said. "Our country is a country that grieves at those who sacrifice." The tally of soldiers who have died in action there over the last 100 days reached 56 Thursday night. Mr. Bush said the soldiers had been participating in a vital "part of the war on terror."

Mr. Bush spoke at his Texas ranch alongside Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld following a meeting on military strategy.

Reviewing developments in Iraq, Mr. Bush said, "We've made good progress. Iraq is more secure."

He cited the reopening of banks, improvements in Iraq's infrastructure and the stirring of democracy, which Mr. Bush said "is a major shift of system in that part of the world."

Mr. Bush would not say whether he shared the assessment of the commander of coalition forces in Iraq, Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who said Thursday that U.S. forces will remain in Iraq at least two years.

Mr. Bush would only say "I will do what's necessary to win the war on terror." Mr. Bush said Americans have "got to understand I will not forget the lessons of Sept. 11," when America was hit with its worst ever terrorist attack.

The president also would not say whether he had an estimate on how many more soldiers would die. Nor did he answer a question on future costs of the American presence in Iraq.

Mr. Bush said he was heartened by financial and military contributions other countries were making in Iraq, and promised to present a "well thought-out" cost estimate to Congress.

"Congress will be able to ask legitimate questions like you're asking," Mr. Bush told reporters outside his ranch house, "and they'll be answered."

In other developments:

  • In a new raid, U.S. snipers killed at least two men unloading weapons for sale in a market in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.
  • A group linked to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terror network, Ansar al-Islam, may have been behind the car bombing of Jordan's embassy in Baghdad, which killed 19 people, U.S. officials said Friday.
  • Defense officials say genetic material found in a prison cell in Iraq did not match that of Michael Scott Speicher, a pilot missing since the 1991 Gulf War, but investigators continue to search for other evidence of his fate.
  • Joseph C. Wilson, the former U.S. envoy who investigated and found no proof of claims that Iraq tried to buy uranium in Niger, tells The New York Times that he's been the victim of a campaign meant to discourage dissent. His wife was recently identified by name as a covert CIA operative in a column. The information was attributed to a senior administration official. Revealing covert agents' names is a crime.
  • Companies are dropping out of the competition for a potential $1 billion contract to rebuild Iraq's oil industry because they think Halliburton, the former firm of Vice President Dick Cheney, is favored to win the bid, The New York Times reports.

    More than 50 people were wounded in the powerful explosion at the Jordanian Embassy, which set cars on fire, flung the hulk of one vehicle onto a rooftop and broke windows hundreds of yards away. On Friday, the Jordanian flag flew at half-staff as U.S. and Iraqi investigators looked through the debris for clues.

    Morgue officials on Friday raised the death toll from the embassy blast to 19, from 11 reported the day before.

    U.S.-run Radio Sawa, which broadcasts to the Middle East, quoted American Lt. Gen. Norton Schwartz on Friday as saying American authorities were looking at Ansar al-Islam as a potential sponsor of the bombing.

    "We know that that group is in the country," military spokesman Col. Guy Shields told reporters in Baghdad. "At this point of time, it's too early to say which group is behind" the bombing.

    Schwartz said U.S. officials didn't have any specific information linking Ansar al-Islam to the bombing but were looking for any possible link.

    "That is an al Qaeda-related organization and one that we are focusing attention on," Schwartz told reporters at the Pentagon. He added, "They had, before the war, infrastructure in Iraq, and some of that remains, and our effort is focused on eliminating that."

    Ansar al-Islam's main headquarters, in Kurdish-controlled northeastern Iraq near the Iranian border, was wiped out in American bombing early in the war. The group has been reconstituting in Iraq, with members filtering back into the country from Iran, U.S. officials have said.

    Before the U.S. invasion, Ansar, which included veterans of bin Laden's training camps in Afghanistan, battled frequently with Kurds and was known to carry out suicide bombings, car bombs and assassinations of Kurdish figures. It has not been previously linked to attacks on the scale of the embassy blast.

    Secretary of State Colin Powell said the group was a link between Baghdad to al Qaeda when he made his case for war to the U.N. Security Council in February. But others have questioned whether there was any connection to Saddam's regime.

    In the Tikrit weapons market Friday, witnesses and military officials said the U.S. snipers killed two men and wounded two others.

    U.S. forces had positioned snipers around the market after hearing that weapons and ammunition were sold there every Friday, said Lt. Col. Steve Russell, whose 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion, executed the operation.

    Dr. Mohammed al-Jubori, chief physician at the Tikrit Teaching Hospital, said three people were killed. He said two died in the market and a third, shot in the head, died while being treated at the hospital. He said five were wounded, including a 10-year-old boy shot in the leg and hit in the head with shrapnel.