WASHINGTON -- Three years after he delivered his ''mission accomplished" speech on Iraq, President Bush declared yesterday that another turning point had arrived with the establishment of a permanent government in Baghdad.
''We believe we've got partners to help the Iraqi people realize their dreams," Bush said of the recent emergence of new Iraqi leadership. ''They need to know that we stand with them."
The May 1, 2003, appearance on the USS Abraham Lincoln is one of Bush's most indelible images. He emerged from a Navy jet that landed on the carrier's deck. Under a ''Mission Accomplished" banner, Bush announced that ''major combat operations in Iraq have ended."
Although he was careful not to declare overall victory and warned of difficult work ahead, the speech was congratulatory in tone, and was aimed at marking a pivot from invasion to reconstruction.
''In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed," Bush said then. ''The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on Sept. 11, 2001, and still goes on. . . . We do not know the day of final victory, but we have seen the turning of the tide."
It did not turn out that way.
Violence in Iraq continued instead of ebbed. In the six weeks from the start of the invasion to Bush's speech, 139 US soldiers had died. In the three years since, as of Sunday, there have been another 2,258 US military deaths in Iraq -- an average of 63 each month.
Democrats cited the anniversary in criticizing the president.
Representative Rahm Emanuel, Democrat of Illinois, chairman of the House Democrats' campaign arm, issued a reminder of some of the administration's main prewar predictions that proved false: that Iraqi oil production would finance the reconstruction, that American troops would be greeted as liberators, that weapons of mass destruction would be found, and that a war that is now heading toward a $300 billion-plus price tag would not cost a third of that.
The Democratic leader, Harry Reid, stood on the Senate floor in front of a picture of Bush with the date May 1, 2003, and the phrase ''Mission Accomplished," and read the names of 16 troops from his state of Nevada who had been killed.