( dpa )- US President George W Bush pledged Monday to keep up the fight in Iraq to ensure that the 4,000 US soldiers who have died in the war have not done so needlessly.
"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," Bush said at the State Department.
Four US soldiers were killed during a patrol Sunday in southern Baghdad, bringing the US death toll to 4,000 since the war began on March 20, 2003.
"I hope their families know that, you know, citizens pray for their comfort and their strength whether they were the first one who lost their life in Iraq or recently lost their lives in Iraq," Bush said, adding the 4,000 milestone provided a "day of reflection."
The conflict in Iraq, along with the faltering US economy, has dominated the presidential election campaign and fuelled calls to begin withdrawing the US presence.
Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama say they would quickly begin withdrawals if they take control of the White House in January while the presumptive Republican nominee John McCain has stuck with President George W Bush's policy of keeping soldiers there until the mission is complete.
Bush earlier Monday held a teleconference with his top commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus , and the US ambassador to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker. The two men are scheduled to appear before Congress in April to discuss the progress that has been made under the troop surge launched by Bush last year.
The surge has dramatically reduced violence, and Bush said Monday there was a "great opportunity" to capitalize on the progress that has been made since he expanded the US presence from 130,000 to 160,000 soldiers.
Petraeus is due to report on whether the bulk of the troop surge can be pulled out of Iraq. Bush, marking the fifth anniversary of the conflict last week, warned that any premature withdrawals could undo the progress that has been made and allow Iraq to fall into chaos.
The weekend deaths of the American soldiers coincided with a series of attacks Sunday by militants in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq, leaving more than 60 Iraqis dead.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Bush receives reports on each American soldier killed and so far met with nearly 1,000 of their families.
"He definitely feels the loss ..." Perino said. "And he always pauses a moment to think about them and to offer a prayer for their loved ones and their family and friends."
Clinton told an audience in Philadelphia that the the 4,000 military death toll in Iraq was "heartbreaking" and said she would end the war if she wins the election.
"As president, I intend to honor their extraordinary service and the sacrifice of them and their families by ending this war and bringing them home as quickly and responsibly as possible," she said.