Bush Visits Troops On Easter

President Bush attended an Easter service Sunday at Fort Hood where he offered prayers for peace and the well-being of American soldiers and their families.

For a third straight year, the president made the 50-mile helicopter flight from his ranch in Crawford to mark Christianity's highest holiday at the largest active-duty armored post in the military and a base that has contributed thousands of troops to the U.S. force in Iraq.

Earlier Sunday, the top U.S. military officer in the Mideast spoke of hopeful developments in Iraq and their effect on the number of U.S. troops in the country.

"I think that we've gone from a primarily military environment, to a primarily political one. And that's a very encouraging sign," said Army Gen. John Abizaid, the commander of U.S. Central Command.

"Obviously, the longer we have a delay in the formation of the Iraqi government, the more uncertainty there will be. The more uncertainty, the greater chance for escalated violence," he said in a broadcast interview.

"American forces provide the shield by which the political process can take place. And American forces also have got to develop the Iraqi security forces. When politics move forward and Iraqi security forces move forward, you will start to see not only a big change in the prospects for peace and prosperity in the region, but an opportunity for a pretty substantial drawdown of our own forces," Abizaid said.

In other developments in Iraq:

  • Al Qaeda in Iraq released a video Sunday claiming to show the murder of an Interior Ministry official.
  • Debate raged about religion's place in Iraq's much-anticipated new government as lawmakers were summoned to their second-ever session.
  • In Baghdad, bodyguards for Science and Technology Minister Rashad Mandan Omar opened fire on a crowd of protesters who had gathered in front of the ministry's offices to demand their full wages, an official said. About 50 ministry guards were demonstrating because they said they were paid only part of their wages, the official said.
  • Gunmen killed a local official from the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, and two of his relatives. Police discovered their bodies Sunday in an abandoned car north of Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. The motive for the attack was unclear.

    Military leaders have said that the extra 15,000 or so U.S. troops added during the run-up to Iraq's elections in January would be gone by the end of March. That would leave the U.S. force at about 138,000 troops, thousands of whom are from Fort Hood.

    President Bush joined several hundred members of the Protestant congregation for the service at the 4th Infantry Division Memorial Chapel. Accompanying the president were first lady Laura Bush, daughters Jenna and Barbara, and his parents, the first President Bush and Barbara Bush.

    "I want to wish all the fellow citizens and their families a happy Easter," Mr. Bush told reporters after the service. "We prayed for peace, we prayed for our soldiers and their families. It's an honor to be here at Fort Hood to celebrate Easter with those who wear the nation's uniform."

    The president and his family then returned to the ranch for the day. Their Easter dinner menu included Texas grapefruit; homemade mozzarella salad; glazed ham; green chili cheese grits soufflé; roasted asparagus with lemon dressing; chive biscuits; fresh fruit; coconut cake; and blueberry pie.