- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 5, 2007

BAGHDAD — Hundreds of U.S. troops marked the Fourth of July by re-enlisting in the military yesterday while others took oaths of American citizenship in ceremonies at the main U.S. headquarters in Iraq.

A total of 588 troops signed up for another stint, the U.S. military said, while 161 troops became naturalized American citizens. The ceremonies took place at Camp Victory, the sprawling American headquarters at the western end of the Iraqi capital.

“No bonus, no matter the size, can adequately compensate you for the contribution each of you has made and continues to make as a custodian of our nation’s defenses,” the top U.S. commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus, told the audience.

Visiting Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, congratulated the new citizens and spoke of the hardships endured fighting in an unpopular war. Mr. McCain, who has backed the war, has watched his presidential campaign suffer as public support for the conflict has waned.

“You know that you who have endured the dangers and deprivations of war so that the worst thing would not befall us, so that America might be secure in our freedom,” Mr. McCain said. “As you know, the war in which you have fought has divided the American people. But it has divided no American in their admiration for you. We all honor you.”

Gen. Petraeus dedicated the Independence Day ceremony to the memory of two soldiers who were killed in action before they could be sworn in as citizens.

They were Sgt. Kimel Watt, 21, of Brooklyn, N.Y., a native of Jamaica who was killed June 3 in Baghdad, and Spc. Farid Elazzouzi of Paterson, N.J., who died June 14 in a bombing near Kirkuk. Spc. Elazzouzi was born in Morocco.

“Words cannot express the admiration I feel for these two men or the sadness I feel for our nation’s loss and their families’ sacrifice,” Gen. Petraeus said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, led the new citizens in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Dining facilities at U.S. bases around the country were open throughout the day, serving traditional Fourth of July meals of barbecued ribs, barbecued chicken, grilled rib-eye steak, corn on the cob, apple and cherry pie.

At a U.S. base outside Baqouba, Sgt. Jesse Jones, 24, of Olympia, Wash., spent Independence Day taking a shower and getting a haircut. His platoon was on break before heading back to fighting in Baqouba.

“Today, I’m just basically relaxing and refitting, getting ready to go back into the city,” he said. “As much as I want to be home, I don’t regret being here. This is a good place to celebrate the Fourth of July. Not only are we celebrating independence, we’re fighting for independence, too.”