Wednesday, January 19 9:07 PM SGT
Bush salutes US air strikes on Iraq as "Lord's work"
AHMAD AL-JABER AIR BASE, Kuwait, Jan 19 (AFP) - Former US president George Bush on Wednesday told American airmen based in Kuwait to enforce a no-fly zone over Iraq that they were doing God's work.
"I'm delighted that I've been invited out here today to salute you, who, in my view, are doing the Lord's work," Bush said to rapturous applause from 400 troops of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Group.
Bush, silhouetted against a huge US flag, praised the airmen's mission at this desert air base.
"Iraqi minions pillaged this great country," he said. "I hope no-one in the US Congress or anywhere else in the United States forgets the importance of this mission ... or underestimates it.
"We (US) are a moral country and we made a moral statement in January 1991 that that aggression will not stay, and you are making a moral statement today," he said, referring to the Iraqi invasion and Gulf War that followed.
"You are making sure this aggressor (Iraqi President Saddam Hussein) knows that his aggression will not go rewarded but punished," Bush said to the crowd assembled in a disused hangar to the background hum of incoming helicopters.
Bush was decorated with Kuwait's highest award and given an honorary doctorate in 1993 for his role in the US-led Gulf War victory over Iraq, whose troops occupied Kuwait for seven months from August 2, 1990.
The former president's visit to the emirate came on the ninth anniversary of the start of the six-week conflict. His son, also called George, is the leading Republican candidate for this year's US presidential election.
Stepping down from the podium, Bush mingled with the airmen to the strains of piped marching tunes, merrily signing hats and posing for group photographs.
Ahmad al-Jaber air base, 80 kilometres (50 miles) southwest of Kuwait City, is the temporary home of dozens of US warplanes which have been punishing Iraqi violations of an exclusion zone in southern Iraq with air strikes.
Squadrons of US F-16 Fighting Falcons, F-18s and A-10 Warthog ground attack aircraft all fly out of the base.
Some 3,500 US troops and staff are also stationed at Kuwait's Camp Doha, where the US military prepositions and stockpiles equipment for use in live firing practice and desert training.
Bush's main ally during the Gulf War, former British prime minister John Major, is also in Kuwait on a private visit for the anniversary. The emirate signed defence accords with London, Washington and Paris after the conflict.