Bush rallies troops at Florida base

President Bush said Wednesday that the war in Iraq is far from over and warned that coalition forces will face "the most desperate elements of a doomed regime" as they close in on Baghdad.

Trying to rally troops and an anxious U.S. public amid stiffening Iraqi resistance, Bush said, "We will stay on the path, mile by mile, all the way to Baghdad and all the way to victory."

Bush spoke to hundreds of uniformed military personnel at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., as rising U.S. and British casualties raised questions about American battle plans. Nine Marines were killed Sunday in an ambush, and Army helicopters encountered fierce resistance during an attack Monday on Republican Guard units protecting the approaches to Baghdad.

The first bodies of fallen U.S. servicemen were brought back to the United States Tuesday. "We pray that God will bless and receive each of the fallen, and we thank God that liberty found such brave defenders," the president said.

Their sacrifice was not in vain, Bush said, asserting that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction could have gotten in the hands of terrorists. He listed achievements of the small military coalition that consists mostly of British and U.S. forces. Airfields have been seized, terrorists camps destroyed, and Saddam Hussein's highly trained Republican Guard troops are under "direct and intense attack," the president said.

"I can assure you there will be a day of reckoning for Iraq, and that day is drawing near," Bush said to loud applause.

Bush spoke hours before meeting at Camp David with his principal war ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The British leader was spending the night at the presidential retreat.