FORT HOOD, Texas — President Bush yesterday likened the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad two years ago to the fall of the Berlin Wall and called it part of a “global democratic revolution.”
“Many of you have recently returned from Iraq,” Mr. Bush told 25,000 cheering soldiers on a sun-drenched field. “Others are preparing to head out this fall — some for a second tour of duty.”
“Whether you’re coming or going, you are making an enormous difference for the security of our nation and for the peace of the world,” he added. “I came here today to thank you in person for your courageous choice of service.”
The troops shouted “hooah,” their all-purpose expression of approval, and chanted “USA! USA! USA!” They seemed heartened by the president’s report that Iraqis are replacing U.S. forces as that country’s primary peacekeepers.
“Security operations are entering a new phase,” Mr. Bush said. “America and its coalition partners are increasingly playing more of a supporting role.
“Today, more than 150,000 Iraqi security forces have been trained and equipped,” he added. “For the first time, the Iraqi army, police and security forces now outnumber U.S. forces in Iraq.”
Although the second anniversary of Baghdad’s liberation was Saturday, Mr. Bush waited to publicly celebrate until yesterday’s visit with the troops, many of whom participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He said the 21-day race to Baghdad “will be studied for generations as the fastest armored advance in military history.”
“On April 9th, we liberated the Iraqi capital,” he said. “The toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad will be recorded, alongside the fall of the Berlin Wall, as one of the great moments in the history of liberty.”
The president reminded soldiers that when they entered Iraq, Saddam controlled 25 million people, but when they departed, he was in a prison cell.
“He will get the trial that he did not afford his fellow citizens when he was in power,” Mr. Bush said. “Slowly but surely, the land that gave civilization the first written code of law is now restoring the rule of law, and setting the example for people across the Middle East.”
The president said the U.S.-led democratization of Iraq and Afghanistan has triggered signs of reform in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Palestinian territories.
“As the Iraq democracy succeeds, that success is sending a message from Beirut to Tehran that freedom can be the future of every nation,” he said. “The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a crushing defeat to the forces of tyranny and terror, and a watershed event in the global democratic revolution.”
While that movement includes countries like Ukraine, Mr. Bush made clear the focus of his push for democratization is the Middle East, which spawned the terrorists who attacked the United States on September 11, 2001.
“Across the broader Middle East, the tide of freedom is surging,” he said. “A critical mass of events is taking that region in a hopeful new direction.
“And as freedom spreads in the Middle East and beyond, the American people will be safer and the free world more secure.”
Mindful that U.S. forces are still suffering casualties in Iraq, the president also sounded a note of caution.
“There’s a lot of hard work ahead,” he said. “The Iraqi people face brutal and determined enemies.
“But Iraqis are also determined, and they have the will to defeat the insurgency,” he added. “And then our troops will come home with the honor they have earned.”
After the speech, Mr. Bush had lunch with the troops and then met privately with family members of soldiers who were killed in the line of duty.