Removing his suit jacket and rolling up his sleeves in the hundred-degree heat of an air base in Qatar — some 700 miles from Baghdad — the president told military personnel that they had defeated "a great evil."
But Mr. Bush said the U.S. force has a lot of work left to do in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein's regime. He blamed looting and lawlessness on the criminals released from jail during the last days of the former government.
"Our forces are taking aggressive steps to increase order throughout the country," he said.
Touching briefly on the weapons of mass destruction that were the chief justification or war but have yet to be found in Iraq, Mr. Bush told the gung-ho soldiers that the U.S. is on the hunt for answers, reports CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller.
"You know better than me he's got a big country in which to hide 'em," the president said, referring to Saddam's alleged concealment of illegal weapons. "We're on the look. We'll reveal the truth."
Amid charges in Washington and London that intelligence data on the Iraqi threat was overstated, Mr. Bush said one thing is certain: By ousting Saddam's regime, Iraq will not serve as an arsenal for terrorist groups.
Mr. Bush noted the recent discovery in northern Iraq of what U.S. intelligence agencies say are probably each part of a mobile biological weapons production facility.
However, no complete production system has been found. Neither trailer had any biological agent inside, nor showed any signs that they had been used to produce biological weapons.
The president, fresh from a two-day mission aimed at bringing peace to the Middle East, emphasized the improvements the war brought to Iraq. He mentioned the word "freedom" repeatedly and spent little time on the weapons issue.
"The world is now learning what many of you have seen," Bush told the more than 1,000 troops, who cheered every other sentence. "They're learning about the mass graves. They're learning about the torture chambers. Because of you, a great evil has been ended. Because of you, the dignity of a great nation is being restored."
Mr. Bush blamed Saddam for neglecting his country's infrastructure, without mentioning damage from the war.
"A more just political system will develop when people have food in their stomachs, and their lights work, and they can turn on a faucet and they can find some clean water — things that Saddam Hussein did not do for them," he said.
After his remarks, the president paused to shake his hands with troops. Soldiers held cameras and video recorders above their heads to get pictures.
Earlier Thursday, Mr. Bush met privately with Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of all U.S.-led forces in the Persian Gulf and with L. Paul Bremer, the new head of the occupation authority in Iraq, to discuss the progress of Iraqi reconstruction.
He also paid a courtesy call to the emir of Qatar, a country that has been a longtime U.S. ally, and left for Washington immediately afterward.
His visit here was akin to a victory lap after a seven-day trip to Europe and the Middle East.
That journey first took him to Poland, which the White House cultivated into a reliable ally during the build-up for war.
It then brought him to his first postwar meeting with the leading opponent of war among American allies, French President Jacques Chirac, at a meeting of the Group of Eight nations on Chirac's home turf.
He won support for his Mideast peace effort from Arab leaders on Tuesday, and was able to wring concessions on Wednesday from both the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers.