Biden presides as troops in Iraq become U.S. citizens

Vice President Biden congratulates a soldier who became a U.S. citizen on Saturday.
Vice President Joe Biden celebrated American patriotism and mocked the ghost of Saddam Hussein during a Fourth of July visit to Iraq on Saturday.

He presided at a naturalization ceremony at one of Hussein’s former palaces, where 237 U.S. service members were sworn in to become American citizens. “We did it in Saddam’s palace and I can think of nothing better. That S.O.B. is rolling over in his grave right now,” Biden said of the former Iraqi dictator, who was toppled by a U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and executed by the Iraqi government in 2006. Standing in the shadow of a 50-foot American flag, the service members recited the Oath of Allegiance and the Pledge of Allegiance in the rotunda of the Al-Faw Palace, now part of the U.S.’s Camp Victory complex in Baghdad. U.S. military officials called it the largest naturalization ceremony ever conducted in Iraq. Biden extolled America’s diversity and its destination as a refuge for immigrants, saying newcomers are the “lifeblood” of the country and that “there’s always room for more.” “As corny as it sounds, damn I’m proud to be an American,” he said. “Thanks for choosing us. You are the reason why America is strong.” Thanking the troops from their military service, Biden said “you are the source of our freedom, you and all who came before you.” “What a sight you are today. What a powerful symbol for the rest of the world you are,” he said. Mentioning America’s founding fathers, Biden told the new Americans from across the world that “as of today they’re your founding fathers.” Biden visited Iraq days after U.S. combat troops formally left the country’s urban centers and handed security duties over to Iraqi forces. U.S. involvement in Iraq will continue to decline, he said. See how some troops mark July 4th in Iraq ยป

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“Next summer our combat troops will leave Iraq itself, and we will be on track to remove all U.S. forces from Iraq at the end of 2011,” he said. But a roadside bomb on Saturday underscored Iraq’s instability. It exploded in an outdoor market in the Yusifiya area south of Baghdad city, killing a civilian and wounding 15 people. Biden later met with troops from his home state of Delaware, including his son, Beau, and he visited the mess hall where a Fourth of July feast was served. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, also lauded the newly naturalized troops, saying the Fourth of July and Iraq were the appropriate time and place for a naturalization ceremony. Invoking the words “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” from the Emma Lazarus “New Colossus” poem inscribed at the Statue of Liberty, Odierno said, “to be honest I’m not so sure that its legendary inscription is applicable to this group here today, because when I look at the men and women sitting out in front of me here, I’m having a hard time because I don’t see them in terms of tired, poor or huddled.” He said if he had to write an inscription he would say “give me your best your brightest and your bravest. Give me your warriors, your heroes who will enhance our great nation and strive to keep her free.” Many of the soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen were from places like Mexico, the Philippines and Haiti. Some were from Iraq. In a news release about the ceremony, the military quoted Spc. Ammar Al Khalidi, an Iraqi native and interpreter for the 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team.

“It is an honor and a privilege to be invited to a ceremony for citizenship and to receive a letter from President Obama, the first African-American president,” Al Khalidi is quoted as saying. “I’m making history and when I have kids, I plan to show the letter to them with pride.”