As Iraqi parliamentary elections began, Mr Bush said no country has formed a democracy without “challenges, setbacks and false starts”.
“There’s still a lot of difficult work to be done in Iraq,” the president said, “but thanks to the courage of the Iraqi people, the year 2005 will be recorded as a turning point in the history of Iraq, the history of the Middle East and the history of freedom.”
Mr Bush unexpectedly invited questions from the audience after his speech to the World Affairs Council in Philadelphia and immediately was asked about the number of Iraqi casualties.
“I would say 30,000 more or less have died as a result of the initial incursion and the ongoing violence against Iraqis,” the president said. “We’ve lost about 2,140 of our own troops in Iraq.”
White House counsellor Dan Bartlett said later that Mr Bush’s estimate of the number of Iraqis killed was not an official figure but was based on figures quoted in the media.