WASHINGTON - Marking a grim milestone, a determined President Bush declared yesterday the lives of 4,000 U.S. military men and women who have died in Iraq "were not lost in vain."
The White House signaled anew that no troops would be added soon to scheduled pullouts.
The President spoke after a roadside bomb in Baghdad killed four U.S. soldiers Sunday night and pushed the American death toll to 4,000.
The number pales compared to those of other lengthy U.S. wars, but it is much higher than many Americans, including Mr. Bush, expected after the U.S. invasion of Iraq five years ago.
Mr. Bush proclaimed the end of major combat operations in Iraq in May, 2003. Almost all of the U.S. deaths there have happened since then.
"One day people will look back at this moment in history and say, 'Thank God there were courageous people willing to serve, because they laid the foundations for peace for generations to come,'•" Mr. Bush said after a State Department briefing about long-term diplomatic efforts.
"I have vowed in the past, and I will vow so long as I'm President, to make sure that those lives were not lost in vain - that, in fact, there is an outcome that will merit the sacrifice," Mr. Bush said.
The threshold of 4,000 dead in Iraq was reached the week after the war entered a sixth year. Almost 30,000 U.S. service members have been wounded.
The White House was careful in its reaction to the milestone, calling it a sober moment but emphasizing that deaths are mourned no matter what the number. Mr. Bush said people are praying for the families of those killed, whether they were among the first or the most recent casualties.
The White House said the President is likely to embrace an expected recommendation from his top commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, for a halt in troop withdrawals in July.
During the pause, General Petraeus and other senior commanders would make yet another assessment of conditions in Iraq, possibly in September, before recommending any specific troop reductions for the final months of 2008.
One factor arguing against a quick resumption in troop cuts after July is the likelihood that Iraq will hold provincial elections in October. That would likely require increased security.
The U.S. has about 158,000 troops in Iraq. The number is expected to drop to 140,000 by summer.
Mr. Bush met for two hours yesterday with his national security team. General Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, took part by video linkup.
The Associated Press count of 4,000 deaths is based on U.S. military reports and includes eight civilians who worked for the Department of Defense.
In Iraq yesterday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki visited Basra in preparation for a new security crackdown there.
The new Basra offensive, including a curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., was announced by Gen. Abdul Kareem Khalaf, spokesman for the interior ministry.
An additional army battalion has arrived in Basra, administered by the British from 2003 until September. The plan will close all schools for three days and bans vehicles from entering the province.
Basra has been torn by fighting among Shiite political parties and their militias over the south's lucrative oil reserves.
Tensions also were visible in Baghdad, where radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's followers protested their treatment by Iraqi security forces.
Leaders in al-Sadr's movement vowed daily protests until the Shiite-run government stopped targeting its members in raids, released detainees, and apologized for the conduct of members of the security force. The leaders accused the government of trying to weaken the organization ahead of the provincial elections scheduled for October.
Baghdad police said gunmen had marched and others burned tires as protests spread across neighborhoods. Sadrists insisted that the rallies were peaceful and no gunmen were present.
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